High schoolers see past `Walls’

As resumes and cover letters from GW students stream into the offices of prospective employers around town this year, applications from School Without Walls students competing for the same coveted internships and jobs are making their way to D.C. employers.

Under the mentorship of Juliette Smith, a new faculty member at the D.C. public high school on G Street, students much like those at GW are using the “city as a classroom” to learn what it takes to thrive in a competitive job market.

“You don’t want the students to have tunnel vision while they have the opportunity to explore,” Smith said. “I applaud students’ focuses, but I want to alert them too that there are some other things out there that may enrich their focuses.”

Internships are a graduation requirement at the School Without Walls. To receive one credit, students complete 180 hours of approved internship work, usually divided between two semesters. In addition to interning, students must complete 100 hours of community service learning projects in D.C.

“I’m just ready to get my feet wet,” junior Tomika Elie said.

Elie is applying for her first internship in GW Hospital’s cardiology department in addition to practicing daily for the Eastern High School marching band.

“Since I was two, I’ve wanted to be a doctor,” Elie said. “A lot of my friends’ brothers and sisters have heart problems, and there is heart disease in my family.”

Compared to college students, who often have full days reserved for work or internships, students at School Without Walls attend class from 8:45 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. Students also gain extra hours by working on school holidays, like Columbus Day, Smith said.

Junior Jaime Shrestha said she wants to work in the medical field.

“I want to write proposals to fund different (researchers’) ideas,” Shrestha said. She said she hopes to run her own health management company someday. She came to the school because she could intern at the Association of American Medical Colleges and take college courses for high school credit.

“I want to be somewhere when I graduate . like a second-semester freshman,” Shrestha said.

In previous years, teachers at School Without Walls were assigned to mentor interning students, but Smith said teachers need to focus on teaching.

This fall, Smith said she will try to visit students at their internships and jobs to ensure their experiences are enriching and that “students aren’t being taken advantage of.”

Smith transformed the school’s nurse’s office into a makeshift headquarters where she can discuss internships and practice interviewing skills with her students.

Smith, who taught art classes at Woodrow Wilson High School, uses a rotary phone as her outside line to employers and recycled tissues boxes to hold scrap paper and forms.

Although her art background allowed her to be creative with limited resources, it is her experience as a supervisor at Potomac Electric Power Company – a School Without Walls sponsor – that helps her to act as a liaison between students and employers.

Seventy-nine percent of students who entered GW in 1997 said they were involved in some kind of community service during high school, said Cheryl Beil, director of enrollment research and retention at GW.

Like students at the School Without Walls, GW students said internships help them to determine what direction to take in their field.

Ariana Markoe, a junior art history major, said she is applying for her first internship at the National Gallery of Art.

“Right now, I know I love the field, but I don’t know what’s in it for me yet,” Markoe said.

Markoe said she hopes an internship will teach her what the museum field offers in the realm of education.

A survey compiled by the Office of Enrollment Research and Retention in 1997 found that 84 percent of students who graduated from GW interned at least once.

“Students are working more,” Beil said. “One of my concerns is what students are going to remember when they leave GW. Are they going to remember that they were stressed out and worked a lot, or that they enjoyed their educations and had fun?”

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