The YEZ at Banana Kelly: Internships in the Bronx
By Stephanie Gilman, Program Manager
Many of the service learning programs at buildOn’s Youth Engagement Zone at Banana Kelly fuse outreach with inquiry-based education techniques — encouraging our students to interact with their environment both sharpens their critical thinking skills and inspires them to plan for the future of the Bronx. But our students are planning for their own futures as well, which is one of the reasons we initiated a service-based internship program with our local partners. Twice a week for two hours, 15 of Banana Kelly’s top-performing students explore service-related occupations within walking distance of their high school — at St. Vincent’s Senior Center, La Peninsula community preschool, and Bronx Charter School for the Arts (via The Point community development center).
[pullquote]Twice a week for two hours, 15 of Banana Kelly’s top-performing students explore service-related occupations within walking distance of their high school.[/pullquote]
From the start, the internship program was an optional endeavor, and we were thrilled when the 15 students selected chose to participate. Before their positions began we held a workshop on professional behavior; these internships are the first workplace experience for many of the students involved. We exercised communication skills, such as the art of “good listening” and eye contact, and role-played to practice conflict resolution concepts. The goal was to build confidence and professionalism, and to foster a sense of self-sufficiency. I wanted these students to interact with their supervisors and address any on-the-job issues with their own creativity.
As the students have settled into their positions we’ve seen their interpersonal abilities grow along with their responsibilities in inspiring ways, and many of them feel as though they’re receiving practical work experience. Those at La Peninsula and Bronx Charter School for the Arts are leading activities with younger children on their own, while St. Vincent’s is teaching its interns the use of recreational therapy with seniors. The students are learning that every job has challenges, too – one intern approached me with a conflict she felt she couldn’t resolve with her supervisor. But they’re also becoming aware of the social graces that encourage success; I was proud to learn that this intern approached the dispute coolly and calmly.
[pullquote]One student, Sirley Lopez, even feels that her English language skills are improving.
One student, Sirley Lopez, even feels that her English language skills are improving — she strives to speak to the pre-school aged kids in her care with with impeccable grammar. In a recent internship journal entry, she wrote: “Working here with the kids I have learned patien[ce] and responsibility. I really like this internship.” She adds, “I can’t wait to graduate and find out what my future job would be.”