Intern program seeking openings

GREENFIELD — Calling local businesses: Hancock County high school students want internships.

Problem is, few businesses have agreed to give students with the Jobs for America’s Graduates program a chance, school officials said.

JAG is a nationwide school-to-career program that helps students at risk of not graduating earn a diploma and get into the workforce by connecting them with employers who can provide internships in a field that interests them. While it’s been in place at Eastern Hancock High School since 2009, the program is in only its second year at Mt. Vernon and Greenfield-Central high schools.

JAG teachers said they are on the lookout for area businesses willing to give local teenagers work experience.

And it’s free.

“For the employer, it is free work for them,” said Greg Judy, Eastern Hancock JAG teacher. “The students may work up to 30 hours, and they’re learning a trade, they’re learning experience to add to a résumé.”

Internships are run through Indiana’s WorkOne program. Students are paid by the state whatever the employer would pay them, and then it’s optional for the employer to keep them on when the internship is completed.

Teachers at all three schools are looking for businesses to partner with to enhance the program. They each have roughly 40 students in their programs, and a quarter of those students are candidates for internships.

Judy, who currently has no internship opportunities for his students, said he has 10 students who are ready and willing to head into the community and work.

In the past, Judy said, he’s had students work at McCleery’s Sporting Goods and Arby’s in Greenfield, but he’d like to line up more opportunities. Ideally, he’d match up students with their interests — a student interested in photography could learn from a photographer, for example; someone in nursing could work in a health office.

But doing cold calls and blind emails doesn’t get many responses. Employers might be hesitant to have a high school student as an intern, he said, or they don’t understand the program. But the students he would recommend for internships are dependable.

“They have to have good attendance here at school, good grades and an interest in work,” Judy said. “They have to pass the gut-feeling check, where I know they’re going to be a good fit based on my experience with them.”

Breanna Fields passed that test. A 2014 Eastern Hancock graduate, Fields held an internship at McCleery’s last year and gained experience that will help her in a career.

Customer service is just one skill Fields said she knows she can take with her as she follows her passion to become a certified nursing assistant and eventually a registered nurse.

“You want to keep a positive attitude, keep (customers) as happy as you possibly can; and that’s something I learned at McCleery’s,” she said.

Mt. Vernon High School junior Desiree Huber volunteers at Hancock Regional Hospital once a month through the JAG program and will begin working at Goodwill through an internship this month.

“I’ve never really had a job before, so it’ll kind of be like my first job,” Huber said, adding that she’s enjoyed the JAG class at school. “I think it’s helpful with learning about your future and your daily life. We learn about budgeting money, and we do projects on learning about our careers.”

Her teacher, James Cochran, said internships give students a taste of life after high school. But he, too, struggles with finding opportunities.

“A lot of times students may or may not know what they want, but if they can go out and kind of see and feel what they are thinking they have an interest in, then they have a better idea of how they can go about getting there,” Cochran said.

Greenfield-Central teacher Jennifer Dixon said she’s building the new program and has about 10 students who would be good candidates for internships. She hopes to land opportunities for the 2015-16 school year.

“We’re definitely in the building stage now for the program,” Dixon said. “That’s what we focused on at G-C is building up those skills so they would be ready for next year.”

All three teachers said they’d welcome the chance to talk with any business owner or manager who is interested in the program.

At a glance

Local teachers hope area businesses step up and offer internships for high school students in the Jobs for America’s Graduates program. The internships are free to the employer, paid through Indiana’s WorkOne program. Here’s whom to contact to learn more: