My Internship: K12 High School Students Thrive in Real-World Settings

Providing real-world internship experiences for online learners is one way K12 gives students a head start in today’s competitive environment.

“Our program is phenomenal,” says Dr. Beth Scott, employment outreach consultant at Arizona Virtual Academy (AZVA). “We’re the only online school in the state doing this. It’s such a benefit to the students.”

The AZVA program places students in meaningful internships during the spring and fall (unlike many other programs that offer summer internships). Students must maintain a minimum “C” grade average and provide their own transportation to and from the job.

“The positions are (generally) non-paid,” Scott says. “Our students receive half an elective credit for every semester they successfully complete. This means 60 hours in the field, minimum. The feedback we’ve received from students, work sites, and parents has all been extremely positive. We’ve seen our students’ social skills take off and, in most cases, it’s a great way for them to connect back to their community.”

Here’s a look at what some of the K12 interns have been up to:

Designing Woman

Kourtney Finger 1
via Maricopa Monitor

Kourtney F. jumped into her internship in the graphics department at the Maricopa Monitor, a local newspaper in Arizona, and emerged as an integral part of its design team throughout her senior year at Arizona Virtual Academy.

“I was surprised they were so willing to let me help out and really become involved in the process,” says Kourtney, whose skills not only improved the product in multiple areas but made her a natural to continue her career as an arts major at Arizona State University (ASU) this fall.

Early on, Kourtney demonstrated her abilities by designing advertisements for in-house contests and a new banner for the Eloy Enterprise, a local paper in Eloy, Arizona. She played a major role in the redesign of the paper’s Pinal Ways lifestyle magazine and even designed the front page layout for the Monitor, highlighting the Country Thunder Music Festival.

That festival, headlined by Blake Shelton, provided Kourtney a unique opportunity to display her talents in the form of a special magazine section that required nearly three months to complete.

“I was mostly in charge of coming up with new and creative ways to format the pages and utilize our photos,” she says. “I designed the cover image—with a giant picture of Blake Shelton, a new logo, and (festival) highlights at the bottom. I worked on it, non-stop, right up until the last minutes, fitting in words, trying different ways to format the magazine.”

The knowledge that attendees at Country Thunder were all receiving the magazine, as well as seeing her name prominently in the magazine’s editorial box, were rewards Kourtney couldn’t have anticipated when she agreed to her internship.

“To put that in perspective, over 27,500 attended Country Thunder, where Pinal Ways was handed out,” she says. “That’s an incredible opportunity (for exposure) that most high school students aren’t going to have. It was really insane—to be honest, I was blown away—that they even listed my name in there.”

More importantly, working with mentors from the Maricopa Monitor staff, including editor Adam Gaub, gave Kourtney the kind of job experience she was seeking.

“Everybody at the office worked with me to make sure I felt comfortable and that I knew what I was doing,” she says. “To know that there are people out there who really want to help you learn and grow was the biggest and best surprise for me.”

Kourtney will study intermedia arts at ASU, where she plans to be exposed to everything from drawing and painting to working with metals. Her dream job:  “For years, it’s been to work as an animator for Disney. I love drawing and combining traditional art with digital art and seeing how that all blends together.”

She believes her AZVA internship has her on that path. “I would recommend this program to anyone who is passionate about a hobby or just interested in learning something new,” she says. “This is your opportunity to ‘customize’ a class to be about what you want. It truly is such a great way to gain experience and learn about careers that are out there.”

Behind the Theater Curtain

From the time she was three, Kassidy P. of Lake Havasu, Arizona, knew she loved to dance and perform on stage. But she never really understood all it took to bring a production to life.

That changed with her internship at the Grace Arts Live Theater in her hometown. At 16 and entering her junior year at Arizona Virtual Academy, Kassidy has a solid grasp on what takes place long before the lights go on and the curtain goes up.

Where once she saw a hobby, Kassidy can now realistically envision a career.

“I’d say this has sealed the deal for me,” she says. “I knew I really wanted to do something with theater or as a dancer. But before this opportunity it was just a fun hobby for me. Now, I’ve had a chance to do it all, from moving sets on and off stage, helping prepare microphones for a show, and lighting design, to helping with makeup, hair, and costuming.

“This has really opened my eyes to the backstage view of the theater—the grunt work that goes on behind the scenes,” says Kassidy, who has aspirations of someday owning a performing arts studio of her own.

Gina, Kassidy, and Scot
Gina, Kassidy, and Scott

An added bonus for Kassidy was getting the chance to work with and learn from Grace Arts Live alumni, including Gina Feliccia (who starred as Dorothy in the National Touring Company’s production of Wizard of Oz) and Scott Dreier (an accomplished singer who also voiced Knuckles in Sonic Adventure 2 and starred in an episode of Malcolm in the Middle), who returned from Broadway to work with aspiring actors on the studio’s production of The Music Man.

Kassidy’s mother Karen appreciates the value in the AZVA internship program.

“Since she was 18-months-old, Kassidy verbalized that she wanted to be on stage,” Karen said. “Of course, that’s something a lot of people would love to do. This internship has given her a plan and many alternatives in case some things don’t turn out. She’s learned to do so many behind-the-scenes things, from makeup artistry to writing to how to run a sound board.

“Specifically, because of the internship and the flexibility while attending AZVA, Kassidy was able to spend hours with these professionals assisting with choreography and vocal training. Working with adults, she’s doing this at a more mature level. Having the opportunity to help choreograph a recent show with two Broadway performers—this is something that would never happen in a traditional school. The opportunities Dr. Scott has helped create are priceless in terms of making ‘forever’ friendships with people who can mentor her.”

Putting Prose, Poetry, and Photography to Work

Mary Kate, 18, has long been a major contributor to PawPrint, the bi-monthly, student-led newspaper for Arizona Virtual Academy students.

A self-proclaimed “seamstress, birder, cryptologist, comic , avid reader, and bookworm,” she’s long had a flair for prose, poetry, and photography. But it wasn’t until her AZVA internship opportunity came along that Mary Kate had the chance to hone her talents in real-world situations.

The initial opportunity came last year when she interned in public relations for the City of Mesa, Arizona, producing material for multiple departments.

“I wrote some articles, took pictures of some events—including some before-and-after shots of projects under construction—and learned all about transcribing videos,” she says. “The internship met my expectations. I really liked (doing) it all.”

Mary Kate took on-the-job experience to a different level with her second internship in 2015, gaining exposure to the business world and a retail setting while still honoring her affinity for the written word.

“I got to work in the Maricopa County (Arizona) Library’s second-hand bookshop,” she says.

On a busy day, Mary Kate would handle more than 200 donated books, checking their condition, determining what price category they fit, and preparing them for sale.

“I learned what books they take (for resale) and don’t and learned about a lot of publishers and authors,” says Mary Kate, who remains at heart a writer of poems, plays, songs, and novels. “I also learned if any of my (future) books ever finds its way to a second-hand bookshop, how much it will likely go for.”

Entering her senior year, Mary Kate is looking forward to at least one more internship opportunity.

On Track with a Foot in the Door

Summer E. had the opportunity to work at three internships during her final two years at AZVA, including at an outpatient pharmacy, which dovetailed with her intent to study pharmacy science in college, and the Therapeutic Ranch for Animals and Kids (TRAK), tapping into her love for horses.

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“This internship program has given me an an idea of what it’s like to work in the real world as well as a chance to get a foot in the door and land a job soon after I graduate,” Summer says. “I believe this is a great opportunity to learn about what it is you might be getting into (for a career). Plus, the extra experience will always look good on a resume once you’re ready to apply for a job.”

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