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Program lets Mainland Regional seniors test drive careers

LINWOOD — A new program for seniors at Mainland Regional High School, the structured learning experience, is giving all kids a chance to explore career paths that interest them beyond high school. An initiative of the state Department of Education, eligible students have a chance to make use of their final year of high school to get real-life work force experiences.

MRHS school board President Jill Ojserkis said the board prioritized structured learning as part of their strategic planning two years ago. “We are pleased that the community has embraced this program, and MRHS students as well,” she said.

The program began in October with more than a dozen students heading out of the high school for 12 to 26 hours internships, some paid, others not. Last week, the interns enrolled in the SLE program had a chance to show what they have done in the first half of the year and talk to current juniors about trying the program as seniors.

Megan McManus, of Northfield, has been considering majoring in accounting in college next year. She had a chance to see if a career working with numbers would be a good fit for her. She took an internship with paving contractor A.E. Stone Inc. “I love it. You don’t have to work in a bank or in an accounting firm to have a career as an accountant. There are so many different directions you can go in accounting,” said McManus, who plans to major in accounting at Adelphia University next fall.

To be eligible for the program, MRHS seniors must have passed the PARCC assessment test, be in good academic standing and be on target to graduate with their class. Through the SLE program students may earn up to 15 elective credits. They must maintain and submit a journal or portfolio that demonstrates they have met the goals and objectives of the structured experience. They must also complete a capstone project at the end of each semester.

Stefan Himmelstein, of Linwood has an interest in law and wanted to investigate the field to see if law school might be a good fit for him after college. He took an internship with the Atlantic County Court System. Himmelstein said he has really enjoyed his role as an observer, learning how lawyers interact in the courtroom with one another and some of the tactics used by defendants and their lawyers. Now that he has completed his 12-week internship with the courts what is the verdict? The experience has made Himmelstein determined to do well in college and get into law school.

The school's SLE program is coordinated and supervised by English teacher Jim O’Kane and computer science teacher Bernadette Daley.

“The cost of college is out of hand. We hope that this program can give our students a bit more direction to pick out or even rule out a potential major,” O’Kane said.

Such was the case with one of the students who took an internship with the Atlantic County Court System. She felt sure that she wanted to be a lawyer, but after spending her internship seeing what would be her duties as a lawyer, the student said she loved the experience and the people but is now planning on getting her license as a real estate agent. O’Kane said the student was extremely happy to have had the opportunity because it cleared up her view of where she saw herself beyond high school.

“It was a good lesson where a student realized the path she envisioned for herself didn’t fit when she tried it on,” added O’Kane.

Lucy Huang, of Linwood, likes animals and decided to take the opportunity to work at the Absecon Veterinary Hospital. She said she enjoyed seeing the role of the vet techs and the veterinarian caring for animals. Her plans beyond high school are to take liberal arts courses the first two years with a goal of working someday to care for exotic animals.

Myriah Bell, of Somers Point, worked the first semester at Gilda’s Club in Linwood. Her mother runs a nonprofit and she hopes to follow in her footsteps and help others. “I learned some great skills working at Gilda’s Club. I used to be shy and now I am much better speaking with people. I have decided to minor in social work and my goal is to help people in need after college,” Bell said.

The students are required to take an English course and a physical education class along with a math, science or history elective. They spend the morning at the high school and then head out for their internship.

“They are seniors first,” said SLE coordinator Bernadette Daley, “And the internship is something extra but we want them to enjoy their senior year at Mainland, be a part of everything the school has to offer while gaining experience, credits and sometimes a paycheck as part of their internship. Each of the internships is tailored to fit that student.”

Douglas Hartman, of Linwood, thought he wanted to be an engineer like his uncle. “I like to build things so I thought I would like to be an engineer,” Hartman said. He was part of the Mainland crew team for two seasons and wanted a change to focus on his future. He jumped at an offer to work at ARH Engineering in Hammonton.

“I took CAD drawing for two years and have been able to utilize that on the job, and I know absolutely that I want to be an engineer. They have given me a chance to work on projects. I had to come up with plans for handicap ramps and worked on plans for a park that had to take into account elevation and water flow, and it was so interesting,” said Hartman, who plans to study mechanical engineering at Rutgers or Virginia Tech.

“Our kids are learning the rigors of the real-world workplace and our local businesses are helping to share knowledge and become partners with members of the school community and the new workforce,” said O’Kane. “The SLE program gives the students the confidence and the skills that they need to be successful through unpaid and paid internships for future employment,” said MRHS Vice Principal Javhan O’Neal. “We are very grateful to the businesses who have supported our program and have employed many of our students.”

The current Mainland SLE partners include ARH Engineering, AC Top Docs, Absecon Veterinary Hospital, The OG, Atlantic County Court System, Concord Engineering, Absecon EMT, A.E. Stone Inc., Gilda’s Club, HealthSource Chiropractic, and Rothman Orthopedic. To become a work place partner with Mainland Regional High School, contact Jim O’Kane at 609-287-1054 or jokane@mainlandregional.net or Bernadette Daley at 609-432-1518 or bdaley@mainlandregional.net.

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