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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Internships motivate — but scores are low

Student internships “saved” a low-performing Chicago school that serves low-income students, writes Hechinger’s Chris Berdik in The Atlantic.

Aurice Blanton, a senior at Chicago Technology Academy, interned for a month at CNA Insurance last May. Photo: Chris Berdik/Hechinger Report

Founded as a charter-like contract school in 2009 by Chicago Public Schools, Chicago Technology Academy offered “classes in coding, entrepreneurship, and software such as Excel and Photoshop, field trips to local startups and mentoring by tech leaders, he writes.

However, after five years, only 57 percent of students were graduating after four years; less than half went to college.

In 2014, ChiTech focused its turnaround on project-based learning and month-long internships for 12th graders, mostly at tech companies.

Over lunch at the CNA company cafeteria, a handful of interns chatted with TJ Pavlov, a psychology teacher who oversees ChiTech’s Real-World Learning program and regularly checks in at student worksites. Last fall, Pavlov said he helped the school’s 74 seniors create “interest inventories” and upload their profiles to a youth-oriented networking startup based in Chicago called Yolobe. The students matched their interests with postings of paid internships from about 30 of the school’s corporate partners, including the educational software company Codemoji, the advertising agency DDB, and Black Tech Mecca, a think tank studying technology use and development by African Americans.

Inspired by San Diego’s High Tech High, ChiTech organizes classes around student projects, which are shown off to parents and the public twice a year.

Engineering students used computer-aided design software to build 15 “Little Free Libraries” and placed them in neighborhoods where libraries and bookstores are scarce. A coding class programmed a blackjack video game for exhibition visitors who also played analog casino games made by algebra students studying probability.

From 2014 to 2017, the school’s four-year graduation rate climbed from 57 to 77 percent. College enrollment, only 48 percent for the class of 2014 is expected to reach 80 percent for this year’s graduates.

Test scores have not improved and remain well below district averages, writes Berdik. “For example, from 2014 to 2016, the school’s average ACT composite score barely ticked up from 15.4 to 15.6, compared to a district-wide average of 18.4 and the ACT’s “college ready” threshold of 21.”

School leaders think students have learned valuable “soft skills” by collaborating in class and working in a professional environment. But . . . You see the problem.

Mentoring, career-skills training and internships improved college-going, college success and employment rates for black males who completed the program, according to the Urban Institute’s final evaluation of Urban Alliance High School Internships in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. Attrition rates were high. Girls did just as well without the extra help.

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