A local high school program that offers students a glimpse of real-world employment is back, three times its original size.

Waco Independent School District’s summer internship program started in 2016 with 20 students, with the help of community partners and a grant from the Waco ISD Education Foundation.

Three summers later, during a kickoff event Monday, 78 students were matched with paid summer internships.

“It’s really important that we’ve taken their investment for 20 students and now all of a sudden we’re here,” said Donna McKethan, director of Waco ISD Career and Technical Education. “This program has grown and blossomed into something that is very important.”

The internship offers teens an opportunity to scope out a career of their choice before their senior year of high school.

“Internships are important because they are juniors, and we have been giving them as many real-world experiences as we can, but they are going to go into their senior year, go off to college, some of the students may be going straight to work,” McKethan said. “It’s really their time to get out into the world and see what that job is really like.”

Waco ISD offers the program in partnership with the nonprofit Prosper Waco, which focuses on improving the community’s education, health and financial outcomes. It involves the district’s Career Tech Education program (CTE), the Greater Waco Advanced Manufacturing Academy (GWACA) and the Greater Waco Advanced Health Care Academy (GWAHCA).

Lara Robertson, director of the Waco ISD Education Foundation said she is proud of how the internship program has worked out.

“The Waco ISD Education Foundation is honored to have been a part of kickstarting this program that has continued to grow and make an impact on our students over the past few years,” she said. “The diversity of programs that we support is something we are proud of, and the CTE summer internship program is a great example of an innovative idea turned reality that broadens the experiences for our students in Waco ISD.”

Reagan Thomas, a junior at University High School in Waco, said she hopes her internship with the Waco ISD Technology Department will be the first step toward her chosen career path.

“My job will entail fixing computers, wiping the computer, fixing iPads, and getting everything ready for the next school year,” Thomas said. “I believe this career will help me go into civil engineering; I hope this (internship) gives me more information so I can set in stone my career choice. I hope I like it.”

McKethan, director of the summer internship program, said her main concern is that students choose a career path wisely, considering the rising cost of a four-year college education.

“The main thing with students is we want them to make a choice soon because of the way college is now, the cost of tuition and student loans,” she said. “We want them to know what they want before they start those four years of expense.”

Internships were offered at a variety of businesses and agencies including Allen Samuels, Capstone Mechanical, Royal Manor Health Center, Habitat for Humanity, Extraco Bank, NeighborWorks Waco, Dr Pepper Museum, Mayborn Museum, Baylor Club, Salvation Army, Hobbs Bonded Fibers, Bird-Kultgen Ford, Waco Transit, Providence Healthcare Network, Creative Waco, Freedom Schools and Texas Tech at McLennan Community College.

Waco ISD itself offered internships in student services, police, GWAMA summer camp, child nutrition and fleet services. The city of Waco offered positions in public health, fleet services, libraries, animal shelter, utilities, finance and parks and recreation.

Interns are paid $7.50 an hour for an 80-hour internship spread across an eight-week period. Extraco Bank and Community Bank and Trust representatives were on hand Monday to talk to the students about financial literacy and the benefits of having a bank account.

This year, 33 businesses participated in the event, an increase of 11 from the prior year.

“In Waco, there are so many career opportunities that people don’t know about,” said Christina Helmick, communications director of Prosper Waco. “So we’re exposing them to what’s here, and available and ready, so that after they go to college or get a technical certificate, they know there’s an opportunity here, where they can invest back in Waco.”

Hipolito Galan, a junior at Waco High School, will intern at Capstone Mechanical this summer. He’s interested in welding and plans on entering the work force after high school graduation next year.

Janise Ochoa, human resources director at Capstone Mechanical, said her company has participated in the summer internship program since its inception.

“The first year we had one student; second year, four or five; and this year we have two students,” she said.

Capstone is a contracting company with many different areas of expertise: plumbing, piping, sheet metal, engineering, business information management and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning. Ochoa said Hipolito will be working out in the field with an HVAC installation crew.

“It’ll be good for him actually being on the job site, watching them install units on a commercial building,” she said.

If the internship works out, it could be a win-win situation for both parties involved, possibly leading to a full-time job.

“It would be very highly likely,” she said. “We’re super-excited. Our company as a whole is finding it very hard to find plumbers, skilled plumbers and pipefitters and at times HVAC installers in the vicinity of Waco. So this program is ideal because you are getting these students within the Waco area, they’re training and equipping them, and then they come into a company like ours – where you can come in and work your way up.”

“One of our mottoes is just impacting lives,” she said. “I think this works in two ways, he will impact ours and I hope we impact his.”

Lauren Dodd has covered education for the Tribune-Herald since May 2018. A native of Beaumont, Dodd attended Rhodes College and joined the Tribune-Herald in 2018. She previously worked as a reporter at the Seguin Gazette and the Killeen Daily Herald.

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