Giving Kids a Voice: High School Students Shape Summer Internship Program

March 28th, 2016

At Paul’s Place we are continuously evaluating our programs to ensure our work is mission driven. We know, and research shows that going directly to the source – the people we serve – to help evaluate our programs is a valuable tool. Our programs for children and youth are no exception, and we put this theory to the test last fall when we gathered around the table with our high school students and asked them about their summer internship experiences. We wanted to know what was working, what wasn’t working, what they liked about the program, what they didn’t like. We wanted to hear what they would change and what they would keep. After many brainstorms, we created a master list of wants and needs.

In case you aren’t familiar with our summer internship program, Paul’s Place has partnered with YouthWorks (the city’s summer youth jobs program) since summer 2014 to offer five-week paid internships. YouthWorks places students in internships that are easily accessible from home and, when possible, in their field of interest. We took the program one step further by providing professional development for our high school students. That has meant students spent Monday through Thursday at their internships and Fridays at Paul’s Place learning invaluable business skills such as time management, networking, and public speaking.

In last fall’s discussions, one of the biggest things we heard from our kids was that they wanted to work more hours to earn more money. For some, more money means more savings for college, driving lessons, or funds to pay their phone bill. We also learned they wanted to be placed in internships that aligned with their interests, not just ones that were close to home.

After months of conversation, planning, and programming, we are thrilled to announce to our kids and their families and our partners the exciting changes we have made to the summer internship program.

This summer, Paul’s Place, still in partnership with YouthWorks will support ten high school students in our summer program, and we’ve made improvements based on their feedback. Highlights of our program include:

  • Eight weeks of paid work instead of five weeks
  • Two weeks of training on job readiness skills, professional development, and future career planning before they head into the field of work
  • College visits
  • Visits to local businesses and agencies to hear the stories of business men and women
  • Internship sites right here in Pigtown including: Catholic Charities Head Start, Pigtown Food for Thought, and Tasty Creations, among others

It was our hope to be able to honor the wants and needs of our students as we looked to make changes to our high school summer internship program. The idea of allowing kids to have a voice in the design of their own program is not a new idea. In fact, this idea of having youth actively engaged in their own learning and development is a hallmark component of the theory of developmental intentionality – a theory that guides our program philosophy. The theory tells us that when youth have a voice and are active collaborators in the process, they are more likely to succeed. Most importantly, the theory reminds us that when designing a youth program, your attention should not be focused on shaping the youth, but rather creating learning opportunities that help those youth shape themselves. We hope that our high school summer program will do just that.