In its second year, Waco Independent School District’s summer internship program has doubled in student size, the amount of experience offered and the number of businesses participating.
The program kicked off earlier this month, with 42 students spending 80 hours the next 10 weeks learning from 20 local employers about certain career fields, said Donna McKethan, Waco ISD’s career and technology director.
Waco ISD also hired two career and technology teachers to serve as mentors this year and check in with students and businesses during the program to see what can be improved on an individual or partnership level, she said.
Last year, the program started with only 20 Waco High School students working 40 hours during a two-week period, and only five businesses participated . The district announced in December it would expand the program to include University High School students, and eventually place 100 juniors going into senior year in professional environments, McKethan said at the time.
“It’s been great. We still had a lot of kids who got turned down. It was very, very competitive, especially in some areas; automotive being one,” McKethan said. “We had 12 to 15 apply between the two schools, and I had three spots. . . . To get one of those three spots is incredible for these students.”
The city of Waco’s fleet services department expanded the number of internship positions from one to two out of the three automotive positions after community members asked earlier this year, fleet services manager Larry Day said. With three different shops on the department’s property, he knew rotating the interns from area to area would give new experiences to students who are still figuring out what they want in life, he said.
“Most kids don’t get an opportunity or they study something, and then one day they’re out of college and they have no idea what it is,” Day said. “This gives them a chance to get that experience even before college.”
As he searched through applications for the two positions, one person’s résumé stood out among the rest because of her desire and enthusiasm, Day said. Cassandra Brown takes automotive courses at Waco High and has been a mechanic in the fleet services internship for a little more than a week. She’s been outstanding to watch, Day said.
“She’s usually the first one here, sitting there waiting for us to tell her what to do,” Day said. “She’s done everything we’ve asked her to do. She’s worked on heavy trucks; she’s worked on construction equipment. She got to do some welding, and this week she’s been over here working on fire trucks and she’s always smiling.”
While Brown had the desire and enthusiasm that caught her employer’s attention, she also wasn’t sure if working in the automotive field was something she wanted to do as a professional career, Day said. Day wanted her to be able to make an informed decision about what she wanted to do and threw her in the field with other professionals to get her hands dirty, he said. The fact that she’s interested in an often male-dominated career field that’s in high demand is a just plus, he said.
“I was happy when I found out I got the internship, because I thought it’d be a good experience for me to go. I can see what I want to do after I graduate high school, and I like that I’m getting the hands-on experience of what it’s like to be out in the field,” Brown said. “Everybody here respects me, and we didn’t get to work on vehicles like this at school.”
Brown and other interns will earn a $600 stipend for their time at the end of their internships, McKethan said.
Organized by Waco ISD officials and both high school’s career academies, Baylor University, the Waco ISD Education Foundation, Prosper Waco and other entities, the internships directly relate to Prosper Waco’s three main goals for the city: educational success, financial security and increased employment, Prosper Waco spokeswoman Christina Helmick said in December.
Prosper Waco is a collective impact group focused on education, health and financial security in the city by bridging gaps in those areas.
“Everything we’re doing is for the kids, but it’s also for planning ahead,” McKethan said. “It’s helping the kids, it’s helping the community and it’s helping the businesses, but it’s also helping us get ready for next year. The moment (Cassandra) started, we were on to next year. We’re going to the businesses, and our partners at the end of the summer and we’ll want them to commit to next year for the ones we did. We’ll debrief, figure out what we want to do better and move forward. We had 42 this summer. I hope to have 100 next summer, and then 150 and we just keep going.”