By: Jacklyn Brzoska and Lilly Lapine
The City of Stamford has made a decision that, once again, turns a cold shoulder to the opinions and needs of its students. The Senior Internship Experience—only offered at some schools, is a unique program that has been suddenly altered and, as a result, will be stripped away from many of us.
In past years, students were given the opportunity to participate in an internship in place of going to school from May (after AP exams) until graduation. Their grades would be frozen, and they would go to work every day. This invaluable experience of participating in the workforce was an enormous benefit for seniors heading into the next phase of their lives.
This year, the format has been altered due to the new A/B schedule. For those of you who may not know the internship experience we are referring to, here’s a quick summary from the Senior Internship Experience website: “The new internship, The Senior Internship Experience (SIE), will now take place during the second semester, January 23-June 9 (tentative last day of school).
“This program will allow students the opportunity to pursue their unique interests and passions outside the confines of their formal education program.”
According to the website, the program will take place “2 to 3 days a week based on A/B free 4th Period, Approximately 6 to 9 hours weekly, Maximum of 120 hours over 6 months.”
What this overview neglects to mention is that not all seniors have a free 4th period. Thus, the internship isn’t feasible for many until after school (2:05 PM). From an anonymous poll sent to the Westhill Class of 2023 that received 70+ responses, 98% of students are unable to participate in this internship because of extracurricular activities and responsibilities after school. Compared to last year’s 208 Westhill seniors, only xx participated this school year.
Then they need sufficient time to do school work and study for exams. If one were to go to an internship, let’s say at 3:30, given most afterschool clubs end at that time, they would get to the job at 4:00 and are expected to work for who knows how long?
Then come home and get all the homework and studying done. This scenario doesn’t even consider students who have athletic obligations, where most practices run until 6 pm. In these cases, participation isn’t an option.
Thus, these driven, hard-working student-athletes are excluded from the program. When the City of Stamford’s Youth Employment Program Coordinator, Michelle Lappas, was contacted to see if students were included in the decision, Lappas acknowledged that “no senior input” was sought.
The former program format opened many doors for students because it gave them the time and focused on making it a priority. Westhill alumni who participated in the program agreed that it was a very beneficial and rewarding experience. Zara Williamson (class of 2022) stated, “As a senior, I found it important to learn new skills in a new environment, but also to return to what I knew and loved in the last weeks of the school year. As such, the structure of the senior internship was perfect: a combination of challenges and routine, a sense of independence with an opportunity to return “home” to Westhill after 3pm.”
Williamson’s experience could not be achieved in the new program format. Further, the original format enabled students to go directly to their internships in the morning, spend the day there and, if needed for other activities, go to school afterward. Whereas the new format requires students to start the day at school, then go to their internships, and then, if needed, return back to school for activities.
Many students struggle with transportation and there is a real economic impact with gas prices so high and students making multiple trips around town. Additionally, after-school jobs are a reality for many students and, for some, an economic necessity. SPS’s internship website notes that “We have 12,674 youth 16-24 years old in Stamford. 51% of children eligible for free and reduced lunch. 13% of them are unemployed.”
This program is an unpaid internship. Many of the students in this program who are on free or reduced lunch also have obligations after school that prevent them from participating in this experience that otherwise would give them a chance to transition into the workforce and learn outside of the classroom.
After COVID, three years of turmoil, online school, masks on and off, we sought stability coming into the 2022-2023 school year. The new A/B block schedule was yet another radical change for students to adapt to. We had to adjust quickly, and we are getting comfortable with the fact that the block schedule is a new reality.
Now, we are thrown another curve ball that an important and eagerly anticipated senior experience has been changed with no advanced notice and no input given. Even Westhill Principal Rinaldi stated he “was not aware until the information was sent out to Stamford families.” It is an unnecessary and detrimental blow to our four years of high school that has been defined by instability.
We need to add to the voices that have already weighed in with their displeasure at this decision. A petition has been set up at chng.it/sB49Q2x6SV for all city of Stamford students, parents and guardians, and staff.
Make your opinions known via the survey, and let’s push our city’s leaders to consider our viewpoint in this decision. There is still time to undo a misguided and damaging change and force them to reinstate the old model.
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