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Fifth-Grade Internship Program Builds Confidence, Connection on McCarthey Campus

Signs of spring are beginning to show on the McCarthey Campus, which means people are already hard at work preparing for end-of-year festivities. What might be surprising, though, is that not all of these people are grown-ups.

This year, fifth-grade interns have been playing important roles in planning some of Rowland Hall’s most exciting events, including the upcoming Richard R. Steiner Campus groundbreaking and Lower School Spirit Game. But events aren't the only way fifth graders are making a difference. That’s because the 2023–2024 school year is the inaugural year of the 5-I Fifth-Grade Internship Program, a first-of-its-kind optional leadership program that connects fifth graders with McCarthey Campus staff, administrative, and leadership teams for a yearlong authentic learning experience in which students make real impact on campus.

The in-school 5-I Fifth-Grade Internship Program is designed to help fifth-grade leaders:
• Take initiative
• Individualize learning
• Develop interests
• Impact the community
• Be inspired

In this first year alone, the program’s 34 interns are supporting 19 departments and teams, making it difficult to find an area of the beginning and lower schools that students aren’t impacting. They’ve helped to plan, execute, and lead Community Sings, Roar and Soar assemblies, Grandparents Day, and Maker Night. They’ve observed teachers and supported younger students with their math, reading, and writing. They’ve welcomed prospective families on campus tours. They’ve surveyed their peers to learn what they want to see on the new campus. And they’ve provided necessary behind-the-scenes support, from sorting the mail to answering technology support tickets.

“I think it’s cool seeing how the school works,” said fifth grader Anna F., one of three interns who’s helped create Lower School Spirit Nights, new opportunities for lower schoolers to come together to cheer on the Winged Lions. Classmate Bergen S., one of two interns who assisted with Grandparents Day and is now weighing in on the upcoming Steiner Campus groundbreaking festivities, added, “It’s a really good learning experience. It’s nice to know how much people in the offices contribute to our daily lives.”

Beginning School and Lower School Assistant Principal Brittney Hansen ’02, who led the design and rollout of the 5-I program, knows this kind of opportunity is developmentally appropriate for fifth graders, and right in line with the school’s strategic priorities, which emphasize authentic learning that increases student choice and voice. As the oldest students in the division, fifth graders are ready to stretch their leadership skills while also exploring their budding interests. They want to put into practice their talents and knowledge to better their school. And they’re interested in what it’s like to have a job, with many ready to explore the type of right-fit challenges that internships provide—and which can help prepare them for the next stage of their education.

“We’re looking at the trajectory for what they’ll need by middle school,” said Brittney. “What skills do they need to be successful?”

Photos by Charlie P., marketing and communication intern

And because Brittney and the Lower School principals team wanted to emphasize the real-world nature of the program, they kicked it off with an application process that echoes what students may one day see when applying for positions outside of school. Prospective interns were asked to write essays explaining why they wanted to join the program, what they hoped to learn, why they were strong candidates, and any areas of the school in which they’d like to work and why. They also needed a parent or guardian signature, as well as a letter of recommendation from an adult who wasn’t a relative or homeroom teacher because, as Brittney explained, “We wanted to give the kids practice in appropriately asking a grown-up for help in completing an application process.”

Building these kinds of life skills is important to the 5-I experience. “This program builds skills that are hard to learn in a classroom or traditional curriculum, like writing a professional email and responding in a timely way, or writing thank-you notes to express gratitude for someone giving their time to you,” said Brittney. Students also had to take on responsibility for their applications; although plenty of grown-ups were on hand to provide support and guidance, applicants were in charge of ensuring that their essays and other materials were completed and turned in on time. But the fifth graders weren’t deterred.

“I always get my work done and never say no to a little challenge,” read one aspiring intern’s essay. Another shared, “I am a hard worker. I always take my best shot at every challenge that comes my way.”

Thirty-four fifth graders—more than half of the class—submitted applications in which they made clear their excitement for this new opportunity.

And though the idea of the 5-I program had been met with enthusiasm by fifth graders, Brittney didn’t expect a big group for the first year (she originally envisioned a pilot program of 12 participants). However, 34 fifth graders—more than half the class—submitted applications in which they made clear their excitement for this new opportunity. Since October, these interns have been hard at work, connecting with mentors monthly and taking on tasks across campus that both teach them how the school runs and help them learn more about themselves.

For Anna, one of the interns behind Lower School Spirit Nights, a major takeaway from the program (so far) is an understanding of the effort it takes to transform big-picture brainstorming into a real community event. “It’s important because kids see how much work and effort go into major events, from thinking big to making it happen,” said Anna. She also shared how exciting it’s been for students to have a hand in creating school events. “It’s not a little bubble; it’s more real-world scenarios,” she said. “It really improves teamwork, and trying hard, and dedication.”

It also improves connections across grades. Fifth grader Katie P., one of two interns for the Student Support Team, gives mini lessons to kindergartners and third graders every week and is learning that working with kids is one of her passions. “​​It’s fun. We get to have a different experience every time,” she said. And as a longtime Rowland Hall student, Katie can also apply her own experiences to this work. “I remember when I was that young,” she said. “I remember when I was so confused or when I understood things.” By tapping into what helped her, she’s making concepts easier for students and building connections, especially with the third graders. 

Importantly, 5-I also helps interns learn the value of their voices. Bergen, one of the interns who helped plan this year’s Grandparents Day, shared that he helped write the program script in collaboration with intern Zoe Y. and under the guidance of Associate Director of Alumni and Donor Engagement Marc DeCoste, and that being a part of that process was really fun. “They listened to me and asked me to contribute my ideas,” he said. Additionally, using the script to welcome visitors to campus for the event boosted Bergen’s public-speaking confidence. “I never spoke to a group that large before,” he said. “I felt like I knew what I was doing.”

These benefits go both ways. Adult mentors across campus are full of stories about how wonderful it’s been to have the interns’ support. Director of Enrollment Management Shuja Khan, for one, said his intern, Mila P., greatly benefited his team during the admission season, when she helped build the Rowland Hall community by giving time during recess every Tuesday morning for 12 weeks to welcome prospective families to campus. “Every family was surprised and happy to see her,” said Shuja. “Parents have so many interactions with teachers, administrators, and other parents, but it’s harder to have authentic interactions with kids.”

And Mila’s willingness to share her own experiences opened opportunities for Shuja and his team to have deeper discussions with families about curriculum and the school’s strategic vision. The Admission Office is so impressed they're already thinking about how they can expand opportunities for next year’s interns—and they’re not alone. Chief Information Officer Patrick Godfrey, whose team is supporting three interns, also looks forward to the future of 5-I.

Photos by Charlie P., marketing and communication intern

“This is a fantastic program,” said Patrick. “It’s a way for students to connect outside the classroom with people like me that they wouldn’t ordinarily connect with, and see other sides of the school that they would never see otherwise.” As a result, many members of the staff, especially those who don’t regularly interact with students, feel a deeper commitment to Rowland Hall’s vision. “It’s a more direct path to the why behind the work we do each day,” added Brittney.

This internship program is one example of how we're thinking creatively about learning.—Brittney Hansen ’02, Beginning School and Lower School assistant principal

It’s also a rewarding way for staff to see firsthand how authentic learning successfully builds skills and confidence in students, and helps those students actually see themselves as problem solvers and critical thinkers. For Patrick, who’s watched his team’s interns blossom as they’ve taken on tasks such as basic troubleshooting, running a light board, and beta testing software, this is the ultimate end product for a school.

“I have three students now who can troubleshoot classroom tech for teachers,” he said. “Kids are talking about it all the time when they go home; they’re really jazzed about it. There’s no cost but extremely high reward for students who participate. It’s a huge win for the school in my book.”

And it’s already promising to become a top experience for Rowland Hall’s fifth graders (younger students are even asking when it’ll be their turn to intern). Brittney said she could see it turning into a capstone-like project for this grade, marking the end of their Lower School careers—and serving as just one example of the exceptional outcomes of a Rowland Hall education.

“The Lower School team really does take the work of providing authentic learning experiences seriously and in a way that’s appropriate for our young learners,” said Brittney. “This internship program is one example of how we're thinking creatively about learning, in the broad sense, on this campus.”

Authentic Learning


Banner photo: Interns Zoe Y. and Bergen S. welcome visitors to Grandparents Day.

Fifth-Grade Internship Program Builds Confidence, Connection on McCarthey Campus

Signs of spring are beginning to show on the McCarthey Campus, which means people are already hard at work preparing for end-of-year festivities. What might be surprising, though, is that not all of these people are grown-ups.

This year, fifth-grade interns have been playing important roles in planning some of Rowland Hall’s most exciting events, including the upcoming Richard R. Steiner Campus groundbreaking and Lower School Spirit Game. But events aren't the only way fifth graders are making a difference. That’s because the 2023–2024 school year is the inaugural year of the 5-I Fifth-Grade Internship Program, a first-of-its-kind optional leadership program that connects fifth graders with McCarthey Campus staff, administrative, and leadership teams for a yearlong authentic learning experience in which students make real impact on campus.

The in-school 5-I Fifth-Grade Internship Program is designed to help fifth-grade leaders:
• Take initiative
• Individualize learning
• Develop interests
• Impact the community
• Be inspired

In this first year alone, the program’s 34 interns are supporting 19 departments and teams, making it difficult to find an area of the beginning and lower schools that students aren’t impacting. They’ve helped to plan, execute, and lead Community Sings, Roar and Soar assemblies, Grandparents Day, and Maker Night. They’ve observed teachers and supported younger students with their math, reading, and writing. They’ve welcomed prospective families on campus tours. They’ve surveyed their peers to learn what they want to see on the new campus. And they’ve provided necessary behind-the-scenes support, from sorting the mail to answering technology support tickets.

“I think it’s cool seeing how the school works,” said fifth grader Anna F., one of three interns who’s helped create Lower School Spirit Nights, new opportunities for lower schoolers to come together to cheer on the Winged Lions. Classmate Bergen S., one of two interns who assisted with Grandparents Day and is now weighing in on the upcoming Steiner Campus groundbreaking festivities, added, “It’s a really good learning experience. It’s nice to know how much people in the offices contribute to our daily lives.”

Beginning School and Lower School Assistant Principal Brittney Hansen ’02, who led the design and rollout of the 5-I program, knows this kind of opportunity is developmentally appropriate for fifth graders, and right in line with the school’s strategic priorities, which emphasize authentic learning that increases student choice and voice. As the oldest students in the division, fifth graders are ready to stretch their leadership skills while also exploring their budding interests. They want to put into practice their talents and knowledge to better their school. And they’re interested in what it’s like to have a job, with many ready to explore the type of right-fit challenges that internships provide—and which can help prepare them for the next stage of their education.

“We’re looking at the trajectory for what they’ll need by middle school,” said Brittney. “What skills do they need to be successful?”

Photos by Charlie P., marketing and communication intern

And because Brittney and the Lower School principals team wanted to emphasize the real-world nature of the program, they kicked it off with an application process that echoes what students may one day see when applying for positions outside of school. Prospective interns were asked to write essays explaining why they wanted to join the program, what they hoped to learn, why they were strong candidates, and any areas of the school in which they’d like to work and why. They also needed a parent or guardian signature, as well as a letter of recommendation from an adult who wasn’t a relative or homeroom teacher because, as Brittney explained, “We wanted to give the kids practice in appropriately asking a grown-up for help in completing an application process.”

Building these kinds of life skills is important to the 5-I experience. “This program builds skills that are hard to learn in a classroom or traditional curriculum, like writing a professional email and responding in a timely way, or writing thank-you notes to express gratitude for someone giving their time to you,” said Brittney. Students also had to take on responsibility for their applications; although plenty of grown-ups were on hand to provide support and guidance, applicants were in charge of ensuring that their essays and other materials were completed and turned in on time. But the fifth graders weren’t deterred.

“I always get my work done and never say no to a little challenge,” read one aspiring intern’s essay. Another shared, “I am a hard worker. I always take my best shot at every challenge that comes my way.”

Thirty-four fifth graders—more than half of the class—submitted applications in which they made clear their excitement for this new opportunity.

And though the idea of the 5-I program had been met with enthusiasm by fifth graders, Brittney didn’t expect a big group for the first year (she originally envisioned a pilot program of 12 participants). However, 34 fifth graders—more than half the class—submitted applications in which they made clear their excitement for this new opportunity. Since October, these interns have been hard at work, connecting with mentors monthly and taking on tasks across campus that both teach them how the school runs and help them learn more about themselves.

For Anna, one of the interns behind Lower School Spirit Nights, a major takeaway from the program (so far) is an understanding of the effort it takes to transform big-picture brainstorming into a real community event. “It’s important because kids see how much work and effort go into major events, from thinking big to making it happen,” said Anna. She also shared how exciting it’s been for students to have a hand in creating school events. “It’s not a little bubble; it’s more real-world scenarios,” she said. “It really improves teamwork, and trying hard, and dedication.”

It also improves connections across grades. Fifth grader Katie P., one of two interns for the Student Support Team, gives mini lessons to kindergartners and third graders every week and is learning that working with kids is one of her passions. “​​It’s fun. We get to have a different experience every time,” she said. And as a longtime Rowland Hall student, Katie can also apply her own experiences to this work. “I remember when I was that young,” she said. “I remember when I was so confused or when I understood things.” By tapping into what helped her, she’s making concepts easier for students and building connections, especially with the third graders. 

Importantly, 5-I also helps interns learn the value of their voices. Bergen, one of the interns who helped plan this year’s Grandparents Day, shared that he helped write the program script in collaboration with intern Zoe Y. and under the guidance of Associate Director of Alumni and Donor Engagement Marc DeCoste, and that being a part of that process was really fun. “They listened to me and asked me to contribute my ideas,” he said. Additionally, using the script to welcome visitors to campus for the event boosted Bergen’s public-speaking confidence. “I never spoke to a group that large before,” he said. “I felt like I knew what I was doing.”

These benefits go both ways. Adult mentors across campus are full of stories about how wonderful it’s been to have the interns’ support. Director of Enrollment Management Shuja Khan, for one, said his intern, Mila P., greatly benefited his team during the admission season, when she helped build the Rowland Hall community by giving time during recess every Tuesday morning for 12 weeks to welcome prospective families to campus. “Every family was surprised and happy to see her,” said Shuja. “Parents have so many interactions with teachers, administrators, and other parents, but it’s harder to have authentic interactions with kids.”

And Mila’s willingness to share her own experiences opened opportunities for Shuja and his team to have deeper discussions with families about curriculum and the school’s strategic vision. The Admission Office is so impressed they're already thinking about how they can expand opportunities for next year’s interns—and they’re not alone. Chief Information Officer Patrick Godfrey, whose team is supporting three interns, also looks forward to the future of 5-I.

Photos by Charlie P., marketing and communication intern

“This is a fantastic program,” said Patrick. “It’s a way for students to connect outside the classroom with people like me that they wouldn’t ordinarily connect with, and see other sides of the school that they would never see otherwise.” As a result, many members of the staff, especially those who don’t regularly interact with students, feel a deeper commitment to Rowland Hall’s vision. “It’s a more direct path to the why behind the work we do each day,” added Brittney.

This internship program is one example of how we're thinking creatively about learning.—Brittney Hansen ’02, Beginning School and Lower School assistant principal

It’s also a rewarding way for staff to see firsthand how authentic learning successfully builds skills and confidence in students, and helps those students actually see themselves as problem solvers and critical thinkers. For Patrick, who’s watched his team’s interns blossom as they’ve taken on tasks such as basic troubleshooting, running a light board, and beta testing software, this is the ultimate end product for a school.

“I have three students now who can troubleshoot classroom tech for teachers,” he said. “Kids are talking about it all the time when they go home; they’re really jazzed about it. There’s no cost but extremely high reward for students who participate. It’s a huge win for the school in my book.”

And it’s already promising to become a top experience for Rowland Hall’s fifth graders (younger students are even asking when it’ll be their turn to intern). Brittney said she could see it turning into a capstone-like project for this grade, marking the end of their Lower School careers—and serving as just one example of the exceptional outcomes of a Rowland Hall education.

“The Lower School team really does take the work of providing authentic learning experiences seriously and in a way that’s appropriate for our young learners,” said Brittney. “This internship program is one example of how we're thinking creatively about learning, in the broad sense, on this campus.”

Authentic Learning


Banner photo: Interns Zoe Y. and Bergen S. welcome visitors to Grandparents Day.

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