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Internships give Colo. students an early start in public safety careers

Boulder Valley students work on EMT certification while interning with a fire department


Students from Boulder TEC celebrate with Mountain View Fire Rescue after receiving an ambulance that they will be able to use in a variety of programs such as the EMT program and the auto repair program.

Boulder Valley School District/Facebook

By Amy Bounds
Daily Camera

BOULDER, Colo. — Sam Goldstein and William Ferrie are seniors at Lafayette’s Centaurus High, but they aren’t spending their last semester at the school.

Instead, they’re taking an EMT class at Front Range Community College and interning with the Lafayette Fire Department.

And while they’ll walk with their classmates at graduation, they’ll remain Boulder Valley students for an extra year to take advantage of a free year of Front Range Community College as part of the state’s ASCENT — Accelerating Students through Concurrent Enrollment — program.

“I feel like I’m working toward something instead of just waiting to be done,” Goldstein said.

They’re among nine Boulder Valley high school students participating in an internship pilot program this semester. For the pilot, students receive high school credit by completing 100 hours for their internship, plus online classwork that includes weekly journal reflections and a final presentation.

Boulder Valley wants to engage more students in similar opportunities as part of its Grad Plus initiative, which includes providing students with work-based learning experiences that range from guest speakers to job shadows to internships.

“The key is that connection to industry and helping students answer that question of ‘why am I in school,’ ” said Jody Bennett, Boulder Valley’s work-based learning coordinator.

Her work includes recruiting industry partners and making sure the internships are a positive experience for them, as well as finding ways to make the work-based learning happening at individual schools more systemic and organized.

“It’s in its infancy stage now,” she said. “It will, over time, become a staple in our district. It’s really exciting. We know it’s going to be amazing.”

At the elementary level, Boulder’s Flatirons Elementary created a “Dare to Dream” week in November that went so well, the district is encouraging other elementary schools to replicate it.

The week started with an assembly, followed by daily activities that included creating “dream clouds,” taking interest inventories and hearing from community members and parents about their careers. Flatirons Principal Jessica Seevers said the goal was helping students connect their interests and talents to possible jobs.

“I’ve just seen kids light up in a different way,” she said.

Following up on the week, fifth graders took a field trip to the Boulder Technical Education Center to explore the programs based on their interest areas. The school also is hosting monthly guest speakers, including “pizza with a professional” for a talk by park rangers and “cookie and career” for a talk by an HVAC professional.

“Kids are interested and curious at this age; sometimes educational systems smother that,” Seevers said. “We are trying to get kids and staff to stay excited about teaching and learning. It has been so engaging for my community.”

At the middle schools, the district is focusing on exploring career options through activities like field trips and panels of industry experts. A new software program also will help students match their interest with school district opportunities.

“We want to have the community be a louder voice in our classrooms,” Bennett said.

For the high school internship pilot, Fairview High Grad Plus lead Vanessa Carroll is working with a student this semester who is interning at an artificial intelligence company. Last semester, she worked with a student intern working with the Sunrise Movement climate change lobbying group and a second helping promote bands.

“Before this year, we really didn’t have any way for a kid to do an internship and get academic credit for it,” she said. “We’re trying to make education really innovative.”

While students in the pilot completed coursework online on their own time, it will be a formal class next school year at Fairview that they’ll attend during the school day. The teacher can help students find internship opportunities and provide support.

“The kids will have a community where they can share their experiences with each other,” Carroll said.

Goldstein and Ferrie at Centaurus were ahead in high school credits when they were offered the internship with the Lafayette Fire Department. It’s the first high school internship offered by the department.

“When somebody suggested an internship, we were all over it,” Goldstein said.

Each works with a mentor and is assigned specific shifts. They go on calls, help out at the station and attend training sessions, including one on ice rescues at Baseline Reservoir and another on roof extractions.

“There are a lot of steps to a lot of the procedures,” Goldstein said. “It’s very cool.”

Ferrie said he was initially a little nervous about interning at a fire station, but described the mentors as “amazing” and the other firefighters as always willing to help and answer questions.

“It’s a really nice way to see the environment they live in and the schedule and the routine,” he said. “We can see it from different perspectives. There are so many different jobs in the emergency medical services field. The more experience we can get, the better.”

High school students also are participating this school year in industry-sponsored projects in computer science at Boulder , Broomfield , Fairview and Monarch high schools. And career and technical education teachers are adding work-based learning experiences after participating in a study group tasked with developing more options.

Kristie Evans , a biomedical sciences teacher at the Boulder Technical Education Center , switched this year from a research-based capstone project to a work-based learning project in her senior level Biomedical Innovations class.

Most of the 13 students were able to find a job shadow opportunity that would add up to 30 hours. The rest made a one-time visit to learn about robotic assisted surgery at Intermountain Healthcare in Lafayette , then interviewed medical professionals to complete the rest of the hours.

As the job shadows continue in future years, Evans is looking to develop more connections with industry partners to make it easier for students without their own medical field connections to find opportunities.

Students attend their job shadows once or twice a week, skipping class and completing work they miss at home. They complete weekly reports on their experiences and will give video or in-person presentations at the end of May.

“The joy and the knowledge they’re garnering is beautiful to witness,” Evans said. “It’s amazing what they’re doing.”

Biomedical Innovations student Ava Murray-Swank , a Fairview senior interested in pediatric medicine, scored an opportunity to shadow a nurse at Rose Medical Center who works in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

“It’s been amazing,” she said. “I get to do a lot of hands-on work there. It’s definitely a dream come true.”

She added that she’s “super grateful” for the opportunity to gain real experience in a potential career before college.

“The college process is so hard,” she said. “Getting to focus on the field that we love in high school is just a really great opportunity.”

Phoebe Maierhofer , a senior at Centaurus whose passion for medicine started with a middle school biology class, shadowed three orthopedic surgeons at Boulder Medical Center this semester.

“It’s crazy how much I have learned in the past month,” Maierhofer said. “Seeing what I learned in class translated into real-life cases and real-life patients has been really eye opening. It just fueled my passion for medicine and made me even more excited for my future.”

Classmate Noah Bodner , a senior at Boulder’s Fairview High , connected with an orthopedic surgeon through a family friend who works at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Sports Medicine Center. He is now planning to attend CU Boulder and major in integrative physiology on a pre-med track.

As an intern, Bodner has shadowed the surgeon and his team during surgery and at the clinic.

“I wanted to get a head start,” Bodner said. “I can get my feet wet in the field during high school, so I can experience some things to learn what I want to do and what I don’t want to do. It has been a great experience.”

He wasn’t considering surgery as a possible career before, but the internship “has definitely opened my eyes to what it could be.”

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