Internships: New Independent Learning & Leadership Opportunities @ Common Ground

By Joel Tolman, Director of Impact & Engagement

This spring, Common Ground students are diving into a new kind of learning opportunity: credit-bearing internships during the school day. Here’s a taste of what these interns are up to …

Will, a Nature Year intern, leads an activity at Common Ground’s outdoor classroom

Nature Year. Alongside their Chemistry and AP Language & Composition courses, DJ, Corey, and Will are taking a very different kind of “class” this semester. Three periods a week, they work one on one with a teacher in Common Ground’s Nature Year program: observing in this unique educational environment, building skills as teachers, and eventually planning and facilitating their own lessons.  Each is partnered with a different teacher, who’s tailoring the experience to that student’s interests; Corey, for instance, is the apprentice beekeeper for Common Ground’s hives.

Education Change. This spring, DeaMonte, Samera, Dayanara, and Ana are earning academic credit by making real contributions to school improvement efforts. So far, they’ve analyzed and shared the results of student-designed course surveys, visited like-minded schools around New England, written an article for the Catalyst School Quarterly, helped to write grant applications and review budgets, observed and provided feedback on new Common Ground courses. Before the end of the semester, they’ll each identify one way they can improve students’ learning experiences at Common Ground, and complete a final project that puts this improvement into action.

Isabel, a Farm Intern, operates a bandsaw during a field trip to the Westmount Group, a custom cabinetry company.

Urban Farm. For three hours a week, Angela, Danny, Isobel, Kyle, and Will step away from the traditional classroom to intern on Common Ground’s urban farm. “Each semester is different on the farm, based on students’ interests and the cycles of the growing season” says Deborah Greig, Common Ground’s farm director. “One highlight this year was a field trip to a professional carpentry workshop.” Students are building skills and accessing a new learning environment while contributing in real ways to the farm. Isobel, for instance,  ran the cashier station at last Saturday’s seedling sale, helping to welcome hundreds of customers and check out thousands of dollars worth of healthy, local plants.    

Student Opportunities. Ethan and Mattiah’s student opportunities internship brought them to school last Saturday, where they helped organize Common Ground’s annual portfolio defenses. These students — critical consumers of their high school experience — are getting a chance to use their critical thinking skills to create new learning and leadership opportunities for themselves and other students!

Environmental Education & Teaching Assistants. Leesandra, in the semester before she graduates, is actually taking on two internships at once. During one of her eight class periods, she is out observing and teaching in Common Ground’s school field trip program. She’s also a teaching assistant in Common Ground’s new Shakespeare Workshop course, offered in partnership with Elm Shakespeare and Southern Connecticut State University.  Leesandra is one of more than a dozen Common Ground students are playing critical roles as teaching assistants in classes from math A to Neuroscience — providing one on one support to students, facilitating small groups, and sometimes stepping in to teach or co-teach the lesson themselves.

Ana and DeaMonte, education change interns, observe a classroom as part of a workshop with like-minded schools in Portland, Maine.

How do you make an experience like this rigorous and real enough to justify giving it academic credit? Every intern works with their supervisor to set goals at the start of the term — focused on transferrable skills, learning specific to the internship, their growth as leadership. Interns also keep journals throughout the semester, reflecting on their growth and learning. They complete culminating projects and reflections that end up in Common Ground’s leadership portfolios. And they get regular, deep feedback from their supervisor, who’s able to get to know them and their growing edges at a deep level, before giving them a final grade. 

Why create time in the Common Ground school day for internships like these? It’s part of a larger effort to help students — especially juniors and seniors — identify and pursue their own passions and pathways. In some cases, it’s an opportunity for students who don’t always thrive in traditional classrooms to learn, lead, and experience success. And it’s a way to engage students as powerful agents of change, contributing in real ways to Common Ground’s work and their community.

This semester’s internships are just a prototype — over time, we plan to expand to include internships beyond our campus, but before then, we want to ensure we have the strong systems in place to make sure students are getting everything they can out of these experiences.


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