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Foundation revives summer career acceleration program

Brian Hartz

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George Hakas, left, participated in Pinellas Education Foundation's 2019 Summer Career Acceleration Program, working as an intern at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport. Screen grab.

The Pinellas Education Foundation, in partnership with Bank of America, has brought back its Summer Career Acceleration Program, which was held in a truncated form last year because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The eight-week program matches more than 100 Pinellas County high school students with 34 local businesses, giving the students a fully immersive, on-site workplace experience that will introduce them to the functions and responsibilities of an entry-level position.

In summer 2019, the last time the Career Acceleration Program was held, 112 students and 75 employers participated. Pinellas Education Foundation CEO Stacy Baier, speaking to the Catalyst, said the number of participating employers is down primarily because of continued uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, rather than lack of interest in the program.

Pinellas Education Foundation CEO Stacy Baier

“They had to make a decision back in the spring, before widespread vaccines were available,” she said. “And there’s also a lot of business that aren’t back to work in an office, so the concept of an intern is just not possible.”

In addition to an internship experience, the program also includes career readiness skills training and a financial literacy workshop.

“What’s terrific about this program is that we were able to come out and meet with a variety of students and match somebody who had an interest to the airport,” said Michele Routh, public relations director at St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport, in a video about the 2019 program. “It’s an educational experience for them but we also want it to be something that’s productive for the airport.”

According to the Pinellas Education Foundation, participating students work 20 hours per week and are paid for their time. Employers that are new to the program are asked to attend a kickoff event to familiarize themselves with what is required of them. Pinellas County Schools will provide an on-the-job training teacher as a point of contact for the host business.

“We’re thrilled to have community partners who are willing to step up and say, ‘Hey, we’ll take an intern; we’ll show them the ropes and give them the experience of a business and also some workplace readiness skills,’” Pinellas County Schools Associate Superintendent Kevin Hendrick said in the video.

The program is open to all types of businesses and organizations, including nonprofits and public sector agencies. Student applicants should be 16 to 18 years old, entering their senior year of high school, and have a high likelihood of seeking full-time employment upon graduation as opposed to going to college.

“We’re looking for students who are eager to learn, participate and engage,” said Liza Robuck of Clearwater-based National Aviation Academy, which participated in the 2019 program, in the video. “We’re not expecting perfection or someone with experience. We are expecting someone who is coming in and ready for us to mold.”

Businesses and organizations that want to participate in the 2022 Summer Career Acceleration Program should contact Donna Burns at Donna.Burns@pinellaseducation.org.

There is no firm deadline but students are typically placed with employers in March, so businesses should register their interest by the end of the year or early January.

“Our hope is that we will do this every summer,” Baier said. “We get started pretty early, so contact us as soon as possible.”

She added, “We are grateful to Bank of America for investing in the opportunity for students to get real world job experience. Connecting classroom learning and the application to different careers is an essential step toward preparing students for life after high school.”

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