HANFORD — Some Hanford high school students are getting to add real-life work experience to their book learning.
The students in the linked learning academies at Hanford Joint Union High School District have studies that are focused on a career path that appeals to them. Then, between junior and senior year, they are to participate in internships that let them get a better taste of the type of career that intrigues them.
“The idea is to get every student in these academies some kind of internship opportunity,” coordinator Kim Dodd said.
The district has three academies right now: the Business Finance Academy at Sierra Pacific High School, the Agriculture Science Academy at Hanford High School and the Visual Arts Academy at Hanford West High School
Dodd said the three factors of the recently created work-oriented programs are awareness, exploration and preparation for students to be college and career ready when they graduate from high school. The work-based learning allows students to apply their classroom knowledge in a professional setting to gain real-world experience.
Dodd said in the students’ freshman year, they get to listen to guest speakers from different professions. As the students move up in grades, they get to tour businesses and in their junior year, Dodd is working on job shadowing and summer internships. Students have toured Cargill, AT&T Park, Google offices and even Samsung offices, Dodd said.
Bobby Peters, director of educational services at HJUHSD, said Dodd’s main objective is to seek local employers who are interested in having students as interns. The purpose of having interns is to give students experience and exposure to the careers they are interested in.
Peters said having the students do internships in high school is solidifying their desire to pursue a particular career before they enter college and commit to a major and a career path. Sometimes students think they want to have a particular career, but once they experience it they may change their minds, he said.
Sierra Pacific’s academy is the only one that is in its third year of students, so those students were the only ones available to intern, but Dodd said she is working on recruiting business to take on students from the other two academies next year.
“Our goal is to get students an internship during the summer between their junior and senior year,” Dodd said, adding she would like to get each student two, 40-hour internships during the summer when they have the most time.
Dodd said she doesn’t want to give students run-of-the-mill internships, she wants them to be at places relevant to what they’re studying and in a career field they’re interested in.
“This is to use the skills they’re learning and to enhance those skills and give them some real-world connections,” Dodd said. “Any experience that students can get is going to be beneficial and any connections students make are going to be beneficial.”
The internships could be paid or unpaid positions and Dodd said she knows most businesses won’t have the financial means to pay the students, which she said is fine because the students are still getting experience and connecting to professionals in the community and creating relationships.
Upon graduation, the students in the academies should be ready for entry-level positions in their chosen career path, or they can go off to college more prepared to obtain their degree. Dodd said another upside to the program is creating a skilled workforce of young people who may go off to college when they graduate, but are more likely to come back to the community because of the connections they have made here.
Over spring break, two students interned at the Kings County Farm Bureau and Dodd has internships lined up for seven more students this summer at various businesses. Both Peters and Dodd said the students are enthusiastic about the opportunity to do internships.
Dusty Ference, executive director of the farm bureau said both the interns were hard-working, confident and were "true assets" when they worked there. One of the students was even selected to intern again at the farm bureau during summer.
"Most definitely," Ference said when asked if he would encourage other businesses to take on high school interns.
So far, the internship opportunities are open to just students in the three academies, but eventually Peters said he would like to have any student who wants to be in an internship be able to get one, though he knows it may take some time to get to that point.