Bitney College Prep High School students gain real-world experience through internship program
Caitlyn Cathey was always interested in becoming a veterinarian. Before enrolling at Bitney College Preparatory High School as a sophomore, she had done her best to get an idea of what the career would be like, reading a lot about the field and even briefly shadowing a couple of veterinarians in Montana, where she used to live.
As a student at Bitney, Cathey started interning at Four Paws Animal Clinic in Nevada City. At first, she spent most of her time observing the clinic’s vet techs, and was “in awe” watching them work.
“I’d never actually experienced any of this,” Cathey said. “I came in extremely new and not knowing a thing about what to do.”
But before long, Cathey, 17, found herself in the clinic’s operating room, monitoring animals’ heart rates during surgery. She learned how to help draw blood from animals, label blood samples, prepare tools for surgery and more. Last fall, her internship turned into a paid position as a vet assistant at the clinic.
Now, Cathey said, “I can do basically everything I feel like I was in awe of when I first started.”
Cathey, who graduated from Bitney in December, was one of the earliest participants in Bitney’s internship program, which is now in full swing at the school. When they’re not in class, 12 of Bitney’s 91 students can be found doing things like operating cameras for Nevada County Television, restoring classic cars at TJ’s Auto Spa or staffing the front desk at the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Coalition.
The internship program is designed to help students hone practical skills and pursue career interests. Those are opportunities that aren’t always emphasized in the classroom, said Misha Rauchwerger, Bitney’s career pathways coordinator — and students are missing out as a result.
“I think we’re actually doing our students a real disservice by taking them out of the world for the most productive years of their lives when they are full of enthusiasm and energy and excitement toward learning,” Rauchwerger said.
One of the priorities at Bitney has been building those real-world experiences into its programs, Rauchwerger said. The charter high school compliments its core classes with electives like sustainable design, video production and computer programming, offers opportunities for its students to take classes at Sierra College and emphasizes student-led community service projects. The school has been helping to connect interested students with internship opportunities for a number of years, but launched the more formal internship program at the beginning of this year.
Any Bitney student with a GPA of at least 2.5 is eligible to participate in the program; Rauchwerger works closely with individual students to identify their interests, and then connects students with a local business or organization willing to provide training and mentoring.
Students are required to create a cover letter and résumé, and often participate in an interview with their potential supervisor before the internship agreement is made official.
For many of the students, including Jazzy Willis, the internships they participate in through Bitney are their first job experiences.
The 17-year-old senior started interning at the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Coalition last summer. She’s often stationed at the office’s front desk, answering the phone and greeting people as they enter the office.
Willis, whose interest in interning at the organization stems from her interest in women’s issues, said she’s not only gained an understanding of how a nonprofit operates, but she’s also become more confident when talking with strangers, both in person and over the phone.
“I’ve already learned a lot about how to behave in a professional place,” Willis said. “I think it’s a really good experience to have when you’re in high school, because you’re more prepared for life.”
And internships also better prepare students to enter the workforce, said senior Yinne Peterson, 18. Peterson said the skills he’s learning at Nevada County Television and KVMR — which include podcasting, video editing and DJing — will show future employers that he’s a hard worker who is serious about developing his skills.
“I can build experience and build my portfolio and resume so I can get good jobs in film,” said Peterson, who one day hopes to operate his own video production company.
But internships aren’t just valuable for students who have a long-term career interest; they’re equally as important for students who want to explore different opportunities before they commit to a college major or job path, Rauchwerger said.
And the earlier students can start that exploration process, the better.
“They get out sometimes in their 20s not knowing themselves, not knowing who they are and what they like to do and what they can do, what their capabilities are, because they haven’t been given the skills and they haven’t been given the opportunities to try these things,” Rauchwerger said.
That’s one reason Cathey said she’s grateful to have had an internship during high school. After gaining on-the-job experience at Four Paws, Cathey said she’s still interested in pursuing a veterinary career, but she may want to be a vet tech instead of a veterinarian.
She said her internship helped show her just how many different careers she can choose from in that field.
“It opened up my eyes to all the possibilities that are out there,” Cathey said. “I think it’s going to make me broaden what I do in the future.”
To contact Staff Writer Emily Lavin, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4230.
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