The high school students spoke one at a time to their peers, discussing their work in law firms, clinics and on UCLA’s campus.
One student said she was excited to attend a class by the professor she was working for. Another said she attended her first meeting in an office.
The group of twenty students are members of an internship class at the UCLA Community School, a bilingual K-12 public charter school supported bythe university, which is shifting its focus this year to college readiness. As part of this effort, the school is offering an expanded internship class, a mentoring program and a new college center to prepare students for life after graduation.
The class has grown from eight to about 50 students since it began two years ago.
The UCLA Community School opened in 2009 as part of the Los Angeles Unified School District with support from the UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies. It is located about nine miles east of UCLA.
It is a pilot school, meaning the school has more freedom to experiment with its curriculum and staffing than its LAUSD counterparts, said Agnes Cesare, head counselor at the school.
Hannah Kim, 17, said she was an intern at a local law firm. Kim said the internship has exposed her to office life.
Kim added the law firm internship was her first choice, and that it has made her interested in working in law after college.
Students in the class work at more than 20 locations, said Sarah Bang, associate director of bridging and engagement at the school. Bang said about one fourth of the internships are at UCLA, while others are at locations such as clinics and food banks.
The internship class meets twice a week during the fall semester for students to discuss their experiences at their respective positions across the city, said Rebecca Solomon, the internship class’ teacher. Students visit their internship sites outside of class during the school day, she said.
Students in the class said they had positive experiences in the first weeks of their internships, which started in early September.
Kevin Pineda, 17, who shadows UCLA Community School administrators for the class, said he intends to apply to UCLA and use the leadership skills he gained in the class by joining the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps on campus.
“These are not just experiences to pad a resume,” Solomon said. “The idea is to go much deeper than that.”
Solomon said the internships are designed to teach students firsthand about social justice, a focus of the school’s curriculum.
“This experience lifts the phrase (social justice) off the paper, and gives it real-world meaning,” Solomon said.
Cesare said the school is looking to start another new initiative, a mentoring program for high school students in the spring semester. The program will pair students with UCLA alumni and faculty members, who will meet with them several times a year, she said.
She added many of the students do not have parents who went to college, and could gain from having a mentor relationship with a college graduate.
While the school promotes a “college-going culture,” they do not expect the entire class to attend college, Solomon said.
“Our goal is for all of our students to be college-ready,” Cesare said. “We want the message to go out that if they don’t go to college, it is not because they’re unprepared.”
The school’s college center – a classroom with resources such as computers for college planning – moved this year to a bigger room within the school to better serve student needs, Cesare said.
Cesare said all seniors this year are required to apply to at least three colleges, including at least one campus of the University of California and one California State University.
“We always want our kids to go to college, but in years past we had to (focus on) getting the school up and running,” Cesare said. “We’re shifting the focus now to college readiness, so the kids … not only apply (to colleges), but have a few options too.”