Even 9th graders have to go to work

Danny Kahn stopped turning in homework assignments, attending classes, or even going to school. But Danny's teachers didn't report him to the principal. In fact, they even encouraged him. For Danny, a ninth grader at the Park School , was doing his two-week work-study internship.

Danny, a runner, worked at the Bill Rodgers Running Center, and after a rocky beginning began selling some running shoes. "People sort of looked at me twice when they saw this little guy asking if he could help them buy a pair of shoes. But after I got the hang of it, I was making sales like the rest of the guys."

Since the early 1970s this independent school has provided every ninth grader with a two-week opportunity in the workplace, generally in brookline or in nearby Boston.

Students have gotten exposure to the workaday world in such diverse places as law offices, gas stations, hospitals, police departments, schools, research labs , restaurants, horse stables, radio stations, and museums.

"I just loved the work-study program," says Beth Wheeler, who interned at the Lesley Ellis School. "Now I'm far more intrigued about becoming a teacher." Beth's duties included playing, teaching, and reading to special-needs children.

Although the internships offer both experience and guidance for young people exploring professions or career possibilities, program coordinator Jim Mamarchev asserts its principal intent is to help the youngsters get realistic ideas about the world around them -- and what it expects of them. In addition, it helps them develop knowledge about themselves and their talents or skills, and the confidence to make decisions.

"As the program progressed I got more and more bold about going up to people, asking them questions, and seeing how things worked," says owen Lamont. Among other things, Owen coauthored two newspaper articles that were published in the Brookline Chronicle where he interned.

By and large, the students get the jobs themselves, but not before their teachers have helped them with the job search and suggestions for having a successful interview.

Once the job has been landed, the Park School just makes certain the student has a way to get the job and can find his way there. The school is flexible but likes internships to be located in the Boston area. However, one girl was able to get an internship in Washington, D.C., with the office of Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (d), and a boy got work on a maple-sugar farm in Vermont.

Observers in the businesses, social service agencies, hospitals, and schools that provided the students with their internships say they are pleased with the program. One firm reported, "Our intern was willing, learned quickly, asked questions, and was prompt."

When the firms were asked if they would be interested in taking another intern next year, their response was: "Yes, definitely!" Many of the students have been promised summer jobs by their employers.

While their students are away the teachers don't play.

Teachers find out what sort of work the student will be doing from the students respective field supervisor. Liability contracts are signed to protect the employer in case of mishap. Once on the job, the teacher phones the student as frequently as needed to see how the student is doing and how the job is shaping up. Teachers also visit the student on the job at least once during the two-week period.

The students maintain a log in which they record their thoughts about the job. Facts like whether the job was interesting, whether the firm employed minorities or women, how management treated its employees, and recommendations toward improving working conditions are also recorded in these logs. When the internship is up the students use these logs to present their experiences to the rest of their class, and sometimes the entire school.

"It's definitely a new type of experience for me," says Marilyn Burg, who worked at the Animal Rescue League of Boston, where she kept cages clean, brushed dogs, dealt with customers, and played with animals.

"At school my teachers tell me what to do, how to do it, and when to have it in by. But out there -- in th e real world -- there's not anybody to hold your hand."

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