While many high schoolers are stuck earning minimum wage as lifeguards or grocery store clerks, some students are lucky enough to be rewarded for their commitment to community service with paid internships.
The program has provided more than 1,800 rising seniors and recent graduates with leadership training since 2004. This year 225 students committed to community service were matched with eight-week long paid internships.
Hodge and Li both took advantage of opportunities to give back to their school communities.
Hodge, who will be a senior at Wilde Lake High School, is the vice president of her school’s Best Buddies program, which works to improve relationships between high school students and individuals with intellectual disabilities. Hodge also serves as a chairperson on the Columbia Association Teen Advisory Committee.
Li, a recent graduate of Marriotts Ridge High School who will be studying finance at New York University this fall, was the founder and president of his high school’s Key Club and tutored his peers in math and science.
At the Teach for America offices in Baltimore, Hodge and Li worked 35 hours per week and contributed to teams that support the nonprofit’s fundraising goals and work environment.
Hodge worked with the development team to prepare grant proposals. She researched different corporations and foundations that offered funding for nonprofits and shared the information with her team.
She said she enjoyed observing the “behind-the-scenes” action of a nonprofit. She added that she felt like the success of Teach for America depended on her team’s ability to secure grants.
“We just have to keep it together because we support everybody,” Hodge said. “We’re like the backbone. We need to be on top of everything and you’re responsible for the actions you do here.”
Li supported the Regional Operations and Executive team. He helped organize staff meetings, retreats, and other activities designed to support a productive work environment.
Li said he enjoyed seeing how Teach for America manages its office and carries out its mission, but struggled sometimes to see how his contributions made a large-scale difference.
“Sometimes I do have questions about the connection between the work I do in the office and for Teach for America, but as I’ve gone through I see it indirectly,” Li said. “I do feel my role is valuable and I feel like everything comes together well to achieve Teach for America’s mission.”
Mark Procopio, the manager of corporate and foundation relations at Teach for America in Baltimore, said that the Bank of America program allows Teach for America to introduce students who have gone “above and beyond in their communities” to find out what it’s like to work at a nonprofit.
“We really see it as a way to bring in some really excited and energetic young people and help develop their leadership while introducing them to our mission and giving them an opportunity to have an impact on a nonprofit,” Procopio said.
Teach for America’s Baltimore office was unable to provide internship opportunities before the Bank of America program began, Procopio said.
“This is our only opportunity to bring on some extra help and we’ve just been so pleased with the program,” Procopio said. “We hope we can host these student interns for years to come.”
Bank of America ensures that the student interns spend their paychecks wisely by enrolling them in a financial literacy course.
Hodge, who will be saving up for a car, senior year activities and college tuition, said that her greatest takeaway was to spend money on what she needs, rather than what she wants.
Li and Hodge agreed that earning $10 an hour, $2.75 more per hour than minimum wage, encouraged them to be prepared to manage money as adults.
“The paid work helps me a lot with my college tuition,” Li said. “It’s a nice sense of responsibility that you’re getting paid. You move gradually into this sense of independence and responsibility that you need when you’re an adult.”
If getting paid wasn’t enough of a perk, Teach for America makes sure that its interns are experts on the nonprofit and its mission through weekly team meetings, one-on-ones with interns and leadership training.
“I think the best value for an internship, no matter what the pay is, is professional development and the experience you get working in an office,” Li said.
“It makes you a little bit better before you become a grown adult with an actual job,” Hodge said. “You can say that internship prepared me for what I’m doing now.”
She added that her time with Teach for America boosted her confidence and reinforced the value of a great education.
“After being here I’ve realized I can do anything I want to,” Hodge said. “If I want to help people when I get older I have to help myself by getting an education.”
“We really want them to walk away with a strong understanding of our mission and issues of educational equity,” Procopio said. “I want them to walk away feeling empowered, make positive change happen, value community service and have that always be a guiding factor in their lives.”
Are you a high school student who currently has or has had an internship? How does the internship experience compare to having a part-time job? Would you recommend an internship, paid or unpaid, to your peers? Tell us in the comments below.
About this series: As part of our jobs reporting, Patch is profiling people on internships throughout Maryland, focusing on the issue of paid and unpaid positions. What do you think about paid and unpaid internships? Let us know in the comments below.Editor's Note: This story was written by a paid intern at Patch.