Businesses in Southwest Colorado might be getting more inquiries from Durango High School in the next few months.
The school is looking to bolster the number of internships in everything from computer science to woodworking and the culinary arts.
The internships are part of a program called the Homegrown Talent Initiative, or HTI, which has been in the works for 1½ years and will become more apparent to the community as the district builds a $10 million career and technical education center to be called the Innovation Center.
“This strengthens the bonds students have with the community, and it really helps the students. It helps to have real-world experience,” said DHS Principal Jon Hoerl.
Internships are particularly helpful, Hoerl said, in building a student’s “soft skills.” It’s real-world experiences outside the classroom, he said, that helps students realize the importance of working collaboratively, the value of respect, the value of being adaptable and accountable. In the workplace, when students face new problems they come to appreciate how important it is to develop critical thinking skills.
DHS plans to begin offering 30 internships in January through the HTI program. The internships will be integrated into a class with a 12-week period when students work in the field sandwiched between two sections of classroom work.
The initial four-week period before the internship will allow students to build a résumé, take skills surveys and interest surveys and to learn information about internships available to them. After the internships, students will spend two weeks back in class recapping what they learned during their internship.
Robert Aspen, an academic counselor at DHS, said the plan is to build the internships so that they might come at the end of a concentration of academic work, such as math, computer science, the culinary arts or woodworking, that might began as early as middle school.
The internship, during the student’s junior or senior year in high school, would serve as a culmination or capstone of their tailored studies.
“Ideally, students would have exhausted the class opportunities we have for them in a field, and then we can pair them up with a community partner in the business world for internships that allow them to get real-world experience to help take them to the next level,” Hoerl said.
Janae Hunderman, work-based learning coordinator coordinating internships at all three Durango high schools, said she would like to offer 30 internships for DHS students when spring semester classes begin in January, with internships starting in late January or early February.
Any business interested in offering an internship can learn more about internships at the Business Education Connection website she’s set up to provide information to Durango businesses about providing internships at DHS as well as at Animas and Big Picture high schools.
Any business interested in offering an internship can also call her at 828-2701.
It’s especially important for businesses that would like to host an internship to join now because some positions have disappeared as COVID-19 restrictions have closed or limited workplace opportunities, she said.
“We’ve had a lot of success, depending on the industry, with remote internships,” she said. “But not every industry works well with a remote internship, graphic design and marketing will work. They can go all day long with remote internships. But something a little more hands on, like working with an architect, you really want them in there having the in-person meeting, getting their hands on models, that kind of work.”
Hunderman said the best internships will require some sort of project that will need to be completed by the student.
“Ideally, they get that hands-on experience, and they’re getting some type of work that would prepare them for the field,” she said. “If it’s a medical internship, we’re not going to have them do surgery, but maybe they can research a different health conditions,” she said.
The goal, Hunderman said, is to provide jobs to students that give them some responsibilities and integration into a team rather than an internship in which the student simply shadows workers.
Nick Huber, a DHS junior, said he’s taken a lot of work-based learning classes, especially in woodworking, a craft that he developed a passion for working in his grandfather’s workshop.
He’s participated in SkillsUSA competitions in woodworking and currently serves as vice president of Colorado SkillsUSA student officers. He’s also participated in a conference looking to develop work-based learning programs in rural school districts.
He’s also working with DHS staff members as they build the HTI program to enhance resources and programs for work-based learning.
“We’re looking to make education relevant to students’ interest,” Huber said. “It’s really how we find the best educational experiences.”
Huber believes that work-based curricula combined with a strong internship program is the best way to prepare students for success after high school, whether they go to college, find a job or enter the military.
Not only do internships help with job-specific skills, Huber believes they help students develop their math, language art and communication skills, and everything is enhanced by the real-world lessons in those soft skills of responsibility, team work and adaptability.
Internships allow students to get an idea about the everyday requirements, the skill sets and the dynamics of a profession they are interested in pursuing.
Huber has not yet selected his internship for January, but he’s interested in pursuing mechanical engineering in college. And before he begins his own internship, he wants to help DHS offer as broad an array of positions for students as possible.
“We’re still developing the program. It’s a work in progress,” he said. “We’re getting community support and that will really move the program forward.”