Each summer, LEARN Charter School Network runs a unique paid internship program for their alumni. The program serves a variety of purposes. First, the program gives alumni exposure to a variety of career fields and workplaces. It allows them to create connections and social capital to find employment in the future. It provides a safe space for scholars to learn job skills, like resume writing and financial literacy. Finally, it allows scholars to earn money to use toward school. The requirements to become an intern are that scholars are LEARN alumni and that they are in either high school or college.
The way that Greg White, the President and CEO of LEARN, sees it, “Education is a step ultimately toward employment. We operate in some of the most challenged communities with high unemployment where students don’t have internship opportunities. We provide them an education and the additional support they need to build a resume, build contacts, and earn an income while they’re doing it.”
Willow Walker, the new Assistant Director of High School Placement and Alumni Support, joined LEARN this past year with the intention of enhancing the internship program and alumni support. Seeing that LEARN alumni are twice as likely to graduate college than their peers, the LEARN academic and alumni programming was making a substantial impact — while still committing to raising the bar for excellence.
This new position to LEARN is vital to increasing success for current scholars and alumni. In this role, Willow leads the strategy for high school placement among the ten LEARN campuses. She makes sure that they graduate and persist in a college prep high school, attend college and graduate. Additionally, she is in charge of alumni programming, which includes the LEARN alumni internship program.
In previous years, dozens of students completed their internships on-site at LEARN, working in finance, HR, facilities, and more. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the LEARN team knew it was more important than ever to support their alumni. And knowing the importance of the program each summer, they creatively ran the program both in-person and virtually with a group of 48 interns (including 20 college interns). “My LEARN internship was amazing,” said 2018 LEARN alumni Michaela Mahone and current George Westinghouse College Prep student. “This summer prepared me for the future in several ways like being on time and dressing professionally. Also, I was able to show leadership by holding Zoom meetings with teachers and teaching them how to operate Zoom.”
While they were in the planning phase, one of the LEARN Board Members, Aaron Clubb, offered internship positions for five scholars at the talent search firm where he is a partner – True Search. As Aaron said, “As a recruiter, I have been exposed to careers and companies that I never knew about. Exposure into a variety of careers and companies is critical for all students. My passion for education has evolved into ensuring that after graduating from college, students get their foot in the door at the job of their choice.”
This exciting step was the first time that LEARN used outside internship placements. Those interns spent their time doing research on senior executives for chief-level positions at companies. They also received an education on companies and potential career paths.
Willow and her team are in the beginning stages of planning for what the internship program will look like in the coming year. The fact that this year’s interns were able to do so much valuable and meaningful work virtually made them think about how they might be able to do a virtual-in-person hybrid in the future. Also, True Search enjoyed having the LEARN scholars so much that they’re going to formally expand the partnership in coming years so that even more students can have the chance to learn about careers and paths that exist for them.