When we were initially envisioning the internship that the YALSA grant allowed us, the goals were fairly straightforward. We hoped to support the implementation of our summer learning program while also providing helpful work practice for the teen interns. Although there were some challenges in the beginning, what resulted was a much richer experience as the interns made deeper connections to their community and helped foster a sense of place for the children and families participating in our programs.
After partnering with the local high school’s work-based learning program and outlining the internship tasks and desired outcomes for the teens, we assumed recruiting for a paid internship would be easy with plenty of candidates to choose from. Aside from announcements during homeroom period and flyers in the hallways, we also utilized our community wide listserv called Front Porch Forum and other social media platforms to advertise the internship beyond the school. We even created a Google Form so that teens could apply online if they preferred rather than submitting the paper application. Despite all of the promotion, as the deadline to apply approached we had only two interested candidates. In debriefing with the lead teacher for the work-based learning program, one idea for next year is to change the timing of our recruitment efforts to either earlier before summer camp deadlines or later in the school year when teens might be thinking more about their needs for employment over the summer.
Luckily, our only two candidates were enthusiastic and interested in reading and working with children, and both had prior volunteer experience to bring to the internship. As the summer progressed, we were grateful that we decided to hire both instead of just one intern as we proposed when applying for the grant. Not only were they able to work together and support each other as they created the programs they would lead, they each brought a complementary approach to the work. Sophia loved the planning aspect and could spend hours fine-tuning the details of a program while Elizabeth really shined as she connected with each child participating during the events. Having two interns also made scheduling easier, and for our largest events it was great to have more helping hands.
Having teen interns allowed us to provide more programming to our small rural community of roughly 6,000 particularly on the weekends, which in turn encouraged more participation than we have seen in past years. Over 300 youth and their grown-ups learned about alien earth, the myths in our stars, and how to survive on mars; they tested their Star Wars trivia knowledge, strolled through the solar system, partied to the moon and back and built life sized make believe rocket ships. Most importantly, they spent time together creating a sense of community and place that will carry into the new school year and beyond.
From the interns’ reflections, there were some unexpected positive outcomes for them as well. Although initially unsettling for her, Elizabeth really appreciated the freedom to create and lead a program from start to finish and noted it really helped her become more confident in her decisions and actions. Sophia realized that after spending the last few years going to a different school, she felt somewhat detached from what was going on in her town. Through many little moments during the internship, she was able to do something for and reconnect with her community. Given the success both from the increased summer learning we could provide and the personal growth we saw in the teens, we hope to find a way to continue the internship program for the foreseeable future.
Cory Stephenson is the Library Director at Moretown Memorial Library.