This Chicago high school is giving its seniors time off for tech internships

Andreas Rekdal

Seniors at at Chicago Tech Academy, a technology-centered high school in Pilsen, aren’t showing up for class this month. Instead, they’re gaining real-world work experience with startups, marketing agencies and tech organizations throughout the city.

The program is designed to give the high school’s diverse student body an opportunity to work on meaningful projects and to learn more about what they need to do to land their dream jobs.

“We serve a 90-percent free and reduced lunch population from neighborhoods on the West- and South Side of the city, most of whom will be the first members of their family to go to college,” said ChiTech school director Linnea Garrett. “It’s a way of connecting them to what they see themselves doing in the future.”

Another important goal of the internship program, said Garrett, is to get students started on building a professional network. In her view, much of the opportunity gap students from underprivileged backgrounds are confronted with can be traced back to lacking such a network.

“As adults, we all know that the likelihood of you getting the job you’re in by just submitting a resume without having any contacts are very slim,” she said. “A lot of getting a job revolves around who you know, and who can put your resume in front of someone.”

Founded in 2009, ChiTech is a four-year nonprofit high school that seeks to provide Chicago students with the skills they need to succeed in a technology-driven economy. To that end, all students participate in classes on technology and entrepreneurship daily, graduating with more than 1,000 hours of coding experience at the end of the four-year program.

Garrett said the internship program has evolved significantly since its inception. The first iteration was a one-week mini internship, where all of the school’s seniors interned together at one company. Last year, they did a longer internship in May. This year, the internship will take place earlier in the year to help students get a taste for a specific field before their college applications are due.

In addition to work experience, many of ChiTech’s students are getting paid for their internships. Although Garrett said she understands that some companies simply aren’t in a position to pay their interns, giving students a paycheck allows them to focus on the work they’re doing for the company instead of taking on an after-school job.

Images via Chicago Tech Academy.

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