FCMA students shadow professionals in intern program

Eighth-graders fanned out to locations across tri-county area

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published May 24, 2017

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MADISON HEIGHTS — For the third year, Four Corners Montessori Academy (FCMA) in Madison Heights gave its students a taste of the future with its one-week internship program, held in collaboration with businesses, schools, district courts and other organizations.

Middle school students in seventh and eighth grades had the opportunity to shadow professionals at FCMA and other places across Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties. The unpaid internships ran April 24-28, part of the Career Development Program at FCMA.

“For the first time in their adolescent lives, students are placed in an environment much different than the one they know,” said Meghan Vandenplas, lead teacher for seventh and eighth grades at FCMA, in an email. “They are with new people and must communicate routinely throughout the day. They must conduct themselves in a professional manner throughout an entire workday, and learn to ask questions and seek guidance.

“The work is often mundane and unclear, and oftentimes they must find opportunities where they can be of service to their supervisor,” she added. “Interns see the professionalism and work ethic of other employees and reflect on their observations each day.”

To prepare for each internship, students practiced résumé writing and cover letter writing, effective communication skills, and interview techniques with business professionals.

The eighth-graders then contacted potential employers to secure their internships. The companies take on a mentor role, and this year they included Royal Oak District Court, Quicken Loans, Rustbelt Studios, Serenity Animal Hospital, Correct Car Care, Troy Cooperative Preschool, the Ferndale Public Library, Great Expressions Dental Center, Troy Lanes, the Arbor Inn, Ovations Dining, Uncle Luke’s Feed Store, Legal Aid and Defenders Association, My Beloved Group Home, Rockpoint Community Church and the Hazel Park District Library.

The seventh-graders, meanwhile, worked on-site at the school in its classrooms and offices. Prior to beginning their internships, the seventh-graders met with their assigned mentors to discuss tasks and to get to know one another.

Vandenplas explained how, once on the job, the student interns assist teachers and staff by helping younger students in the classroom, reading with students one on one, helping them travel throughout the school, preparing classrooms for various activities, cleaning and organizing materials, and assisting with filing papers and other administrative tasks.

For the eighth-graders, Monday through Friday is spent entirely outside of school. They do not report to the school during the week. Their hours are set by their internship supervisors. They are required to work a minimum of 30 hours during the internship. Family members drive the student interns to and from their work locations. 

There are also daily student reflections and supervisor evaluations, which allow the school to measure the potential real-world and educational impact of the internships.

One intern was responsible for the preparation of retreat functions, including waiting on customers in a courteous and timely fashion, and making sure that the dining room is neat and clean. Another intern at a dental office was able to observe how the dentist worked hard to establish relationships with patients. And yet another intern reported how he learned about the way businesses chose their products, and what they had to consider.

A few months prior to the internships, the eighth-grade students began discussing business internships by networking with other interns.

FCMA hosted a networking discussion, talking about fields and businesses that interest the students. Then each Friday, they’d meet to work on professional résumés, cover letter writing, and contacting businesses to secure internships.

“Internship week allows students to think about their professional futures long-term,” said Nicholas Kaltz, middle school lead teacher at FCMA, in an email. “This gives students the opportunity to recognize and practice the skills that are necessary for professional success at an early age. They’re able to get a glimpse into a world they may be naive to at this time in their lives.”

FCMA’s middle school has its own curriculum focused on a student’s academic, social and emotional growth.

“In this two-year blended seventh- and eighth-grade program, students learn how to manage their time, work independently, maintain organization, and communicate effectively with their peers and teachers,” Vandenplas said. “These habits are formed through a rigorous Montessori curriculum designed around the adolescent brain, vs. being designed to pass a test. Our goal is to use various methods to prepare our students for real-world challenges.” 

Added Kaltz: “One of the pillars of our Montessori middle school program is to grow our students into responsible, independent citizens of our world. By taking programs like this seriously and going through this process, students are making an investment in their education, and that investment has the potential to pay off in the future. The experience these students gain outside of the classroom show them there is a larger world than what they experience on a daily basis — and they have the potential to be a positive impact on the larger world.”

Four Corners Montessori Academy is located at 1075 E. Gardenia Ave. in Madison Heights, and can be reached by calling (248) 542-7001.