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BCPS summer internship grows

posted Jul 11, 2017, 6:52 AM by Cheryl Shuffler   [ updated Jul 11, 2017, 8:43 AM ]

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          An internship is a valuable way to gain work experience, learn new skills and pad a resume.  This summer, 35 Burke County Public Schools students are getting course credit for working an internship and eight of those are getting experience directly at Burke County Public Schools. The bus garage, custodial department and public relations department have hired high school students to work paying jobs over a 10-week period. 

            Burke County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Larry Putnam said, “This internship program is beneficial to the students, the employers and the workforce in general. It’s a great opportunity for our young people to gain valuable work experience and receive a class credit. We are grateful to the businesses and industries in Burke County who have taken a chance on our students as interns and hope others will in the future.”

            Putnam said the internship program has not been without its roadblocks.

            He said, “The barriers we have faced in trying to get an internship program started include the students’ ages, as most places want you to be 18 years old to work there. Others do not want to pay interns. It’s hard to get anybody to work for free. Another barrier is places want workers who already have experience, and they aren’t willing to take the time to train young people. We talk about how young people are not coming back to Burke County, but we need to be willing to invest in them and give them an incentive to come back here.”

            Putnam said Burke County Public Schools decided to lead the way in the internship movement and hire students who are under 18 and pay them $1 over minimum wage.

“Running a school system is like running a large industry. We are making an investment in the future of our workforce, and we hope other county and city governmental agencies and businesses and industries will do the same. We recognize the need for plumbers and electricians and HVAC professionals, and one way to ensure that we have workers interested in these jobs in the future is to offer them an opportunity to learn these trades. I have the utmost confidence that if you take a chance on our students, you will be surprised at what they can do. Our students tend to rise to the expectations that people have for them.”

Putnam hopes to see the Burke County Public Schools internship program grow even more and see the summer internships turn into afterschool jobs this fall for some of these students.

The student interns working with the custodial staff are doing jobs such as waxing floors and changing light bulbs; at the bus garage they are washing buses inside and out; and in public relations the one student is working on marketing material, social media, producing videos and writing stories.

            The interns’ hours range from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday with a target of 25 hours per week; the pay is $8.25 per hour. The student interns said teachers at their schools were instrumental in informing them of the internship opportunity.

            Alex Cook, a rising 11th grader at Hallyburton Academy, said of the internship, “I thought it was a great idea to get a job and meet new people.”

            Alex, Charles Pendley, a rising 12th grader at Freedom High School, and Dorrien Coleman, a rising 12th grader at Patton High School, are all interning at the bus garage. Charles would like to be a mechanic some day and hopes to get experience working on buses and not just washing them this summer. In the meantime he takes pride in being able to do something in the community by providing clean buses for students to ride come August. The boys work the early shift – 6 a.m. to noon.

            They said they would be up anyway doing chores, and like being out early before the summer sun heats up the day. There’s also that paycheck. They are all looking forward to the first one, with plans to spend it on gas and pets and maybe even stick some back in savings.

            Their supervisor, John Cansler, Burke County Public Schools director of transportation, said, “I appreciate the opportunity to have these interns. These guys are outstanding and hard workers. This is a hot job, but they are doing a great job cleaning the buses.”

            The custodial interns include Grant Reynolds, a rising 11th grader at Patton High School, and Matthew Kiser, a rising 11th grader at Draughn High School. Grant has been assigned to W.A. Young Elementary School and Matthew to his own school, Draughn. Grant’s supervisor, Lisa Conley, said she wishes she had a whole team of Grants. “He is cleaning out sinks and putting in light bulbs – anything I ask him to do he does it, and he doesn’t complain.”

            Grant said the paid internship coupled with the class credit both made him interested in working for Burke County Public Schools this summer. “I’m working with great people. They are awesome,” Grant said.

            Betty Bradley supervises Matthew at Draughn High School and said,  “He’s punctual, has a good attitude and works well. I am tickled to have him.”

            Matthew said he is taking pride in his job, too, and making the school building look good for fellow students when they return in August. He had one warning for them – that they better keep the school clean after all of his hard work.

            Anna Burkhalter is the intern for the public relations department and Cheryl Shuffler is her supervisor.

            Anna said, “I’ve enjoy getting out of the office and going out to take pictures and shoot videos. I expected it to be more of an office job, but it’s nice to get out and see how the school system works in the summer.”

Shuffler said, “Anna brings a student’s perspective to our public relations efforts and is aiding us in adapting our messages for a younger audience. She shows up early, works hard, is very creative and is self-motivated. She has aspirations of going to Mars one day, and with her drive I have no doubt that when she gets there I’ll be able to say, ‘I knew her when.’”      

            Career Development Coordinator Jamie Norton, from Draughn, is in her third year overseeing the internship program. She said it has grown from 15 students the first year to 35 this year. “It has taken off,” Norton said. “It is enticing to families that students can gain the experience and receive the honors credit, if they choose. While the internships aren’t all paid, they do offer job skills and something for students to put on a resume. An internship on a resume is how you get a job these days and that makes a big difference.”

            In addition to Burke County Public Schools, the students have internships in the food and retail industry, at the City of Morganton, the J. Iverson Riddle Developmental Center, an insurance agency and furniture company.

            Norton said those seeking honors credit for their internship – about 50 percent of the students – are required to complete a portfolio, keep a diary of reflections about their experiences and what they learned, and create a resume.