Article Published: July 18, 2017
Article Published: July 18, 2017
To turn a dream into reality, you first need to have the dream. Knowing, seeing and experiencing possibilities fuels the desire to transform the possible into the achievable.
That’s the driving philosophy behind the internship program for students at Holy Family Academy (HFA), an independent Catholic high school of 120 students founded in 2014 focused on college and career prep. As Head of School and Chief Learning Officer Dr. Lisa Abel-Palmieri describes it, “We are a bridge school to employment and careers. Holy Family Academy is for families who can’t afford private school tuition, but who want that level of quality for their children.”
HFA’s internship program represents an innovative application in Pittsburgh, and is modeled after established programs in 30 U.S. cities like Boston, Philadelphia and New York. Beginning in ninth grade and continuing through 12th grade, students intern one day each week during the academic year at some of Pittsburgh’s premier employers, including UPMC Health Plan, Highmark, K&L Gates, FedEx Ground, Carnegie Science Center, Dollar Bank, PNC, the Pittsburgh Technology Council and more. HFA interns usually perform tasks and projects suitable for entry-level employees. More internship partners are being recruited year-round as the school plans to grow to a student body of 300.
“Holy Family Academy has the correct model, connecting kids with what it’s like in a workplace,” noted Morgan O’Brien, President and CEO of Peoples, which has hosted HFA interns from the start of the program. “Everyone enjoys seeing these kids. They’re always on time and well dressed. You’re taken by them, it makes people feel good. They do a good day’s work, a real win-win because it’s teaching value: what it feels like to be in a professional setting, how a typical day goes. They’re learning so much. It helps them figure out what they might want to do, or what they don’t want to do.”
“There’s a huge need to keep Millennials here in this region,” said Abel-Palmieri. “Too many students are under-educated. Large school districts are slow to change. That’s why we offer customized education, building a 21st-century mindset based on the need to be a good person. The internship program applies established key factors to real-life applications. We want all students to have the access to this.”
As such, HFA places every student in an internship while still in high school. They can work to become an apprentice and get started on a career because they have gotten a sustained sampling of different jobs.
“Fully 80 percent of our students intend to move on to college,” Abel-Palmieri explained. “That’s very encouraging. We also make the point that you can be successful if you don’t go to college. Nursing, trades, data analysis, designing apps, manufacturing – all are family-sustaining jobs with good pay and readily available in Pittsburgh.
“At one of our new healthcare placement sites, the demand for drug-free employees as surgical assistants, pulmonary technicians, environmental technicians and pre-surgery equipment specialists is always high. These are jobs our students can aspire to. Giving them the chance to see and experience different opportunities they may not have received otherwise is so important,” she said.
“There are two students at FNB, both working in our mortgage department under the same supervisor, coming in on different days each week,” said Charlie Casalnova, Executive Vice President of Human Resources and Corporate Services at First National Bank, which is completing its first year with HFA. “We’ve developed the program over the course of the year, increasing responsibility and complexity as the students have grown new skills and confidence. They can see that they are adding real value.
“The students have different personalities, so the supervisor tries to assign each student to responsibilities that tie back to their strengths,” he added. “We believe in this program because we know that, if you can get any kind of business experience while in school, it will give you a leg up later on.
“As an employer, this program also gives us exposure with potential talent we may not have met otherwise, including talent for jobs that don’t require a college degree, but that require quality people,” he concluded. “We need talented, motivated individuals like these students working for us, and it’s gratifying to be serving as a launchpad to their success.”