In my rural community, opportunities for teen employment are limited mostly to food service, yard work, and babysitting. When I applied for the YALSA/Dollar General Teen Summer Intern Grant, my goal was to offer meaningful employment that would allow teens to share their skills and passions with younger children. By employing interns in this way I could have helping hands during summer activities and provide a deeper learning experience for school-age participants.

I advertised the position through the guidance office of our local high school, who kindly emailed the details to all students. We also posted the opportunity on our library website, bulletin boards, and social media. With my program goals in mind, I needed candidates who genuinely enjoyed spending time with younger children. I also hoped for applicants who had experience with hands-on STEAM activities and who could take a leadership role during activities. Several applicants had leadership experience through Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, which has sparked my interest in reaching out and partnering with these community groups. Most of my interns had experience with the Technology Student Association at the high school, which might be another source of future collaboration.

The primary duty of our interns was to staff our Summer STEAM Lab for ages 6 to 11, held on Tuesday mornings during the ten weeks of summer programs. Interns set up the room, prepared materials, and interacted with the children by asking questions and offering encouragement as needed. I planned flexible topics for these weekly sessions in order to leave room for ideas and suggestions from our interns. For example, one week we had a sink or float activity where we made and tested boats with aluminum foil. One of my interns had previously led this activity for a group of Girl Scouts, and he had excellent ideas for how to structure the activity and questions to ask participants to further their investigations.

A teen works with two younger children over some building toys.

Interns listened to children’s stories and modeled inquiry processes.

Teens work with younger children as they practice STEM experiments.

Interns helped children test their creations and make changes as needed.

A teen intern observes the play station they built with old tech parts.

During training, interns built an imaginative play station with old tech parts.

Most weeks I had two interns scheduled to work together, with the intention of providing opportunities to develop teamwork and related workplace skills. The teens could problem solve collaboratively and take turns with the less interesting tasks (such as vacuuming after the program). Based on observation, I would say the interns learned from each other as well, since they each modeled different strengths. For example, one teen was more confident with asking questions, and another was more ease with demonstrating an activity to the children. One of the teens learned she prefers working with just one or two children (like a babysitting job).

For me, the intern program was a success because I could offer workplace experience to teens. I saw children working joyfully with the feedback and attention of three caring people, rather than the presence of myself alone. The teen interns modeled hard work and passion for the children who participated in Lab, and I hope that will inspire a return to the library.

Lisa Rand is the youth services coordinator at Boyertown Community Library in southeastern Pennsylvania. She serves on the Intellectual Freedom Committee of the Pennsylvania Library Association and writes for the Intellectual Freedom blog of the Office for Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association.

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