IHS internship program changed my life



September 24, 2019 - 10:27 AM

If you’ve done a double take of some of the baby-faced staff working in area businesses around town, you’re not alone. The average age of staff in local businesses has indeed dropped since the school year began. 

Here’s why: this school year, 22 Iola High School seniors are enrolled in the school’s CTE (Career Technical Education) program, a learning initiative designed to place students outside of the classroom setting and serve as apprentices to employers.

Internships give students real-world experiences to ensure real-life success, and they offer a critical chance to blossom outside of the classroom. 

How’s it working so far? Let’s use my story as an example. 

Early in my freshman year, my outlook towards high school and education in general broke into pieces. I entered a dark period of life where it seemed girls just talked about football jocks and teachers droned on about subjects I didn’t care about. Textbooks bored me, worksheets seemed impossible to complete and the daily routine became overwhelming. Instead of being a cheerful student, I spent most of my time in a bathroom stall covered with graffiti wondering if I would ever see the light at the end of the longest tunnel I had ever entered. 

As with many who suffer from depression, I’m sure I appeared lazy and unenthusiastic. The cheerful teenage girl who adored her friends and relished playing sports has disappeared. All that remained was a slouchy, despondent teenager who pushed everyone away. This became apparent in all aspects of my life: at home, on my report card and in my attitude. I definitely wasn’t on most of my teachers’ good side, and my grades would make you wonder if I had any aspirations at all.

This dragged on for nearly two years. But as I approached the end of my sophomore year, I suddenly started becoming hyper-aware, as did most of my peers, about what was unfolding in our nation’s capital. Topics acutely important to teenagers, such as vaping, gun violence and suicide, started becoming frequent kitchen table discussions. And although Iola was thousands of miles away from the conversations echoing in the halls of Congress, students across the country were getting involved, and Iola was no exception.

This led me into a whirlwind of events that would quickly and significantly change the course of my life. While marching with fellow IHS students to advocate for school safety shortly after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, I ran into the team at Thrive Allen County, who were walking behind us in support of our message. Later that evening I would send David Toland, Thrive’s CEO at the time, an email thanking him for their support and offering to volunteer for any upcoming Thrive events. He promptly responded and offered me an internship position during my summer break. After meeting with him, I accepted the opportunity.

Over that summer, my life completely changed. I went from being deathly afraid of speaking or shaking hands to having real relationships with the CEOs of foundations and presidents of boards of trustees around the state. I learned how to properly run a social media campaign and how to organize various projects around Allen County, my favorite becoming the Downtown Iola pocket park. 

A fire was lit inside me, and suddenly I felt like there was a point to living, a purpose for me to get out of bed every morning. I also found a team of dedicated employees who truly wanted to help people make a better life for themselves. They did this by helping them get enrolled in health insurance, teaching classes about tobacco prevention and employment readiness, assisting in making medical appointments more affordable and accessible, and creating a culture of health. 

And although I was only 16 years old, I truly felt I fit in, even though I was surrounded by people all older than 35. 

As that life-changing summer came to a close, I began to dread the idea of going back to school. My life was no longer was about “just getting through.” Now it was about growing; it was about thriving together. And because of that, I absolutely refused to walk backwards.

Open and honest conversations have always been welcomed at Thrive. So I  gathered up my courage to speak with my supervisor and “second mother,” Lisse Regehr, about what my future could possibly look like going into the 2018/19 school year.

When I explained Iola High’s CTE program to Lisse, I had expected pushback that a teenager would want to stay on. Instead, she simply nodded and replied, “I’m so glad to hear you say that. David and I were just talking about what we’d need to do to get you to stay with us.” 

In a week’s time, I was enrolled into the Career Technical Education program and closed the door to my past life of struggle and depression for good.

Since then, I’ve done nothing but grow as a human in nearly every way imaginable. My grades have improved, my self-esteem is higher than ever, I already have a pretty impressive resume, and, most importantly, I have a true sense of belonging. I’m happy to be alive, proud to be at Thrive, and proud to be one of the first success stories of the Iola CTE program.