Feature stories

Opening doorways

Teacher-designed internship program at Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies prepares students for successful futures

Math teachers Nadia Murray Goodman (standing) and Sarah Beaty (right) listen to Ashley Soto talk about her experiences working with the nurses at Long Island College Hospital as her intern supervisor Danette Morel-Abreu joins in.

Jacques Hoffmann, director of internships at Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies, visits intern Jasseline Pena on the job at the Prospect Park Zoo as she feeds the llamas.

Hoffman congratulates interns at a ceremony marking the end of their required semester spent out in the real world.

Donna Donacien may only be in 11th grade but she’s already taken a first step toward realizing her dream of becoming a leading American fashion designer. The Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies junior has just finished a successful internship at the Cozbi Inc. boutique that makes the clothes it sells. During her internship, Donacien not only learned how to sew but learned about material from her trips to Manhattan’s garment district to buy fabric for the shop.

Noting how meaningful her internship has been, Donacien said, “I’m going to apply to Fashion Institute and Parsons next year.”

The internship program, a graduation requirement at the Carroll Gardens/Red Hook neighborhood school, allows juniors to choose from among 50 businesses, government agencies, hospitals and a variety of nonprofit organizations.

Credit for the 4-year-old program and its success go to Jacques Hoffman, a former jack- of-all-trades, a community organizer for 10 years and a teacher for 14. He allows students to choose their internships rather than assigning them — when one student indicated that she loved horses, he created an internship for her at Kensington Stables — and then holds them to high standards.

When interns bring on-the-job complaints to Hoffman, he gives them real-world advice: take it up with the boss. Since it is part of the learning experience, his theory is, “Never do for those what they can do for themselves.”

In addition to spending two afternoons a week on the job, students maintain time sheets, keep weekly reflection logs and attend weekly seminars. They are evaluated both by their supervisors/mentors and Hoffman.

Hoffman sees the program as “the anchor in a three-year arc to prepare our students as professionals and participants in the economic mainstream.”

The students’ teachers see the effect of the internship program on student engagement and maturity in their classrooms.

“Kids who were disengaged until they took on this internship responsibility now extend that responsibility to their school work,” said math teacher Nadia Murray Goodman.

Sarah Beaty, another math teacher, agreed, noting that the experience “shifts their perspective. They have something at school to attach themselves to, something to be proud of.”

Chapter Leader Kelley Wolcott calls the Brooklyn School of Collaborative Studies “unique” because it believes so strongly in motivating students to “see beyond the classroom.”

The internship program is transformative for students.

Kyle Tlatelpa described himself as a “very shy, awkward and uncomfortable” teenager until he started spending two afternoons a week for a semester at the Prospect Park Zoo talking to visitors about the animals, staffing the desk and helping out everywhere with everything.

That experience “took me outside of my comfort zone,” Tlatelpa explained.

So far out that he and classmate Jasseline Pena became creators and stars of a musical video now showing at the kiosk at the zoo’s entrance to advertise the zoo’s teen program.

The workplace supervisors/mentors also see the changes in the students.

Richelyne Nemorin, who takes in interns at Health Education Alternatives for Teens at Downstate Hospital, spoke of how teens in the program who arrive more comfortable staying in their cliques “come out of their shells” as they adapt to workplace demands.

Blake Wilson from the Irondale Theater Center said students doing internships at his theater become “more vocal, outspoken and assertive.”

Danette Morel-Abreu from Long Island College Hospital said she was surprised at how “shy students become assertive and take the initiative” as they work with nurses.

Junior Ashley Soto said she is now considering becoming a nurse after learning “how to be patient, to work with others and to manage my time well” during her internship at the hospital.

At a ceremony marking the end of their internships on Jan. 14, Principal Alyce Barr congratulated the interns, noting their experience “has added an additional level of learning.”

The internship opens new doorways to the students’ future.

Two interns, from the class of 2011, have received early decision full scholarships to major private colleges, Hoffman reports proudly.

He notes that a few recent graduates of the program created an in-house employment agency that found summer jobs for over 50 percent of the applicants, more than double the national average.

Of his work, Hoffman says, “It mixes the joy and frustration of helping students turn into adults.”

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