DHS Internship Program
“I wish I’d learned that in school!”
“When I was a kid I didn’t learn anything in class that applies to my job today.”
“I wish my high school had given me skills for the real world.”
These sentiments and others like them are commonly uttered in our society. If you haven’t said something along these lines yourself, then you’ve surely heard someone else express a similar thought.
It’s a problem in our education system—the shortage of transferable skills. This lack of real-world training doesn’t just hurt the students; business owners constantly express frustration over the lack of well-prepared help entering the workforce today. For them, it means they often have to invest large chunks of time and money to train new employees before they start contributing to the bottom line.
Fortunately for students and businesses, a new program at Durango High School is tackling this issue head-on in an effort to better prepare students for the careers that lie ahead of them. The program is the Homegrown Talent Initiative, a collaborative effort between the Colorado Education Initiative and Colorado Succeeds, a nonprofit organization of business leaders that are giving educators tangible ways to better prepare their students.
After going through an application process, Durango High School was selected by the Homegrown Talent Initiative as one of just eight Colorado schools to participate in the program. The program’s aim is to develop transferable skills within the school’s student body. It is aiming to do so with a big investment.
“The program gave us $50,000 up front,” said Brandon Thurston, Durango High School’s point person for the program and an assistant principal at the school. “The really exciting thing is that the program also provides a two-for-one match on any funds we raise locally. We had an event where we raised $10,000 for the program through fundraising in the community, and all of a sudden that $10,000 has become $30,000.”
The program includes a student internship program that was developed in conjunction with the Colorado Workforce Council. Its aim is to get kids out of the classroom and into community work environments. Students and education administrators are not the only ones excited about the program’s potential. The Homeowners Association of the Southwest and the Colorado Restaurant Association have gotten involved with the program and are excited about the possibilities.
“First and foremost it’s an opportunity to build their work pipelines,” said Thurston. “Not only are they crafting their pipelines, but organizations that partner with us also have the unique opportunity to project what their needs are going to be 10 to 15 years out and shape the curriculum that the next wave of students entering the workforce will be learning in order to meet the needs of the business.”
It is not often that an 18-year-old who’s recently graduated from high school enters the workforce and has opportunities that are beyond entry level. The aim of Durango High School’s post-secondary education programs and the Homegrown Talent Initiative is to change that. While the program is still in its infancy, it is already seeing promise.
According to Thurston, “We have had some local head chefs coming in and giving lectures and really spending time with our students.” When you add in the time students get to spend onsite through the internship program, the curriculum covers much more than just the basic training on how to be a server. “These kids are getting an idea of all the things that go into running a business. They are learning about everyone’s job within the organization, and their learning experience is multifaceted.”
Another unusual piece of the program is the amount of influence students can wield in it. Nick Huber, a sophomore at Durango High School, has traveled the state and visited all of the other schools involved with the program in order to understand the needs of Colorado as a whole. In so doing, he got to be a part of the conversations that shaped the program he’ll be learning in over the rest of his time in high school. The Homegrown Talent Initiative’s focus on developing student leadership is an important feature, and administrators are confident that giving students a voice in shaping their own curriculum will help create an emotional investment in the program. This voice also ensures that they will be able to study topics that feel relevant to their futures.
In addition to improving the curriculum and changing the focus of the post-secondary programs at Durango High School, funding from the initiative will allow the school to hire more teachers, as well as train current staff in new techniques. Thurston maintains that “Rural schools especially have a huge need for training their staffs on new equipment.” Teachers will take externships to local businesses so they can learn new business techniques. With the school receiving a revamped computer lab, new welding equipment, graphic tablets, and 3D printers and scanners as part of the program, the faculty training will allow the school’s staff to be proficient in teaching students today’s newest technologies.
In the long run, Thurston hopes the program will allow Durango’s businesses to be staffed by homegrown talent. “This isn’t an inexpensive place to live. We want to give our kids the tools they’ll need to make a living that affords them a good quality of life so they can stay here and raise their families in Durango.” If the plan succeeds, Durango businesses will have the luxury of finding great employees in their backyards, and the town could become all the more attractive to companies looking for a place to call home.