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"I want to scoop ice cream but my school says I need an internship this summer." (Part 1.)

Last week I met with some of my graduating seniors and their parents. Everyone was quite excited and perhaps in awe of the passing of time: Did we really just go through the entire university application process? Am I really heading off to university? Little by little the reality will set in. Right now, at the end of a school year, there’s almost too much to absorb and change is happening in every facet of the student’s—and parent’s—life.

Yet while we discussed generally stress-free topics—graduation, prom, summer plans (totally free!), favorite foods--there were a few things that came up during these discussions as we reminisced about the past year that deeply concern me.

One parent asked me during our casual conversation for “advice for a friend”. The friend's daughter is in a “well known” and fairly competitive international school (yet one whose own motto stresses holisitic approaches and accepting one self...) and is moving into 11th grade next year. The family was—is—looking forward to going back to their home country for the summer, relaxing, and the daughter is very keen to work in the ice cream shoppe that’s in their town. She wants to do this.

Before the end of the year, the school has asked to meet with each student—or that each student need fill something out and turn it in, I’m not certain of the mechanics—to confirm what the student plans to do this summer. From the outside, this looks like good practice: helping students gauge what they might want to do--what they may have to do, like earn money--this summer and perhaps brainstorming ideas with them, helping them to get there.

Yet, no. When the daughter of this friend—let’s call her Maya—informed her school she will be working all summer scooping ice cream, full-time, and earning some money, the school called her in. The school was “concerned” that this “activity "wasn’t strong” enough. They asked Maya if she hadn’t considered a proper internship and that that would be more suitable than working in an ice cream shoppe.

Maya and her mother left confused, apparently. Many families believe—whether from their social circle, from what their friends say, and now by their own very school—that “internships” are necessary to get into university.

She's how old? I asked.

Fifteen, said the mother.

Aside from the fact that she doesn’t want an internship and wants to work in an ice cream shoppe, what do we expect a 15 year old is going to get out of an “internship” over the summer, one most likely arranged by their family or connections? It sends the wrong message to young adults; and, this school, in their own actions and words, is sending not only the wrong message to their community but an inaccurate one. Admissions officers want to see students doing things over the summer that are of genuine interest to them, that the student has researched and acquired, that shows depth of character and sense of self. The whole “internship” checkbox is just another overblown, generalized “to do” that parents feel their child must do to compete in this admissions game and, now, that schools are feeding into.

Shame on the school. A child’s school should be a place where myths are busted, where rationality and well-being are taught and rewarded, and where championing the true self is embraced. Instead, schools that focus on improving their own image ("X% of our students do internships starting in their 10th grade" or some nonsense like this) at the risk of their students' health and authenticity should be called on for it.

Be upfront, Schools, on why you advise your students the way you do (and have your facts and intentions straight when you do). Then, let your students and parents decide how to move forward.

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