Now entering its fourth year, the Kingston High School Internship and Career Center is a pathway to employment for students in the district. The center grew out of a tiny home build in Saugerties where Kingston students were given an opportunity to work and receive training over the summer. Around that time, the New York State Education Department changed its graduation requirements, allowing internships to count toward fulfilling the obligations of a Regents diploma.
“Students started to come in and work with me for an internship setting somewhere in the community or in programs that are already kind of established as being able to give these students what’s called a CDOS (Career Development Occupational Studies),” said Tina Dierna, coordinator of the center and formerly a traditional social worker in the district. “It kind of says, ‘Hey, I’m ready to work and I’ve been trained.’”
In its first year, the center had something of an internship inception, with Dierna taking on a pair of graduate level social work interns to help guide KHS students. “It was like the intern teaching the intern how to go about an internship,” Dierna said. “It was a perfect model.”
Within the context of the center, Dierna doesn’t just work with students seeking traditional internship or career opportunities; she also guides students who have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or a federal 504 classification as part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The basic premise is the same for everyone: What happens next?
“I prepare them for what’s after high school,” Dierna said. “Is it college? Is it a career? Is it work? Is it a trade school? And any student can come into the center and say, ‘Hey, I’d like to work on my resume. What do I need?’”
In its first year, Dierna said the center helped 30 students. The following year they were up to 150.
The Internship and Career Center collates resources in a virtual job board and allows students to sign up for notifications about a wide range of opportunities based upon their areas of interest. It also features the KHS Internship Workbook, which includes guidance on filling out job applications, preparing resumes and cover letters, and tips on how to prepare for a job interview.
While the center was a success from the start, Dierna said it’s only become more popular as time has gone on, even during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Generally speaking, I get anywhere from one-to-25 students asking questions about an open position,” Dierna said. “The district had me and our summer mentors for a summer school program this year and within a week I had 20 applications on my desk.”
The center has grown through word of mouth and businesses have begun contacting Dierna about internship and job opportunities for students, sometimes months in advance, but also sometimes a bit too late.
“I will get notices that like, ‘We need a lifeguard, and it’s June and they’re coming to me as a last resort, where I should be like the first person they contact. I would do that in like February.”
For business owners, Dierna said the easiest thing to do is provide copy or a flyer about opportunities that can be cut and pasted into the job board. The more information provided, the easier it will be to identify good candidates for internships and jobs.
“I just don’t have the time to go back to a bunch of employers and ask for clarifying details,” Dierna said. “They should have an idea like, ‘We need a dishwasher on Tuesday and Thursday evening, from this time to this time.’ And the biggest question the kids want to know is how much are they getting paid and what are the requirements for the job?”
In addition to creating relationships with local businesses, the Internship and Career Center works with organizations like the Ulster County Regional Chamber of Commerce, which comes in to discuss their ULDI youth leadership program. It all comes back to students, who Dierna admits are sometimes tough to convince.
“I think the hardest part is the buy-in from some of the students, ‘What’s in it for me?’ They’re so busy or they’re just tasked with so much as students or home responsibilities,” Dierna said. “We’re in a small inner city, and a lot of these kids are leaving and going home, taking care of their siblings or helping out. And for us it’s about how do we provide programming that will give them skills, mentorship and a paycheck?”
And sometimes that’s about going beyond what’s been identified as available internship or both volunteer and paid positions: It can also mean helping open doors to give students an idea what a job they’re interested in might really be like.
“I could have a kid that says, ‘I think I might be interested in real estate, but I don’t really know anything about it,’” Dierna said. “‘Well, why don’t we call over to one of the local businesses and see if you can shadow them for a day?’ We want to make sure our kids are understanding what they’re getting into before they spend money on college or they’re going into a trade.”
What not to do
It’s not just about affirming the right career path; it can also mean crossing unsuitable jobs off of a students’ list.
“I had a student who thought they wanted to be a nurse, and then they went to a clinic and watched a procedure and fainted,” Dierna said. “They were like, ‘Yeah, this isn’t for me.’ They couldn’t take the sight of blood. Another kid wanted to be a vet and found out she was allergic to animals the day she showed up. And she said, ‘Oh my gosh, I didn’t know this.’”
Ideally, Dierna said, community partners will be willing to give students at KHS a shot as interns, volunteers or employees.
“We have a ton of open and available spots in the area everywhere I go,” Dierna said. “I’m seeing ‘help wanted’ signs, and I would really love to see some of our teenagers get those positions.”
See https://www.kingstoncityschools.org/Domain/713 for information on the Kingston High School Internship and Career Center