Some high school students shadowed firefighters, learning about the physical rigor of their work, the intense training required, the rhythms of life in a firehouse. Others followed medical staff at a health-care facility in a Maryland suburb.
Then there was Tyler Kitts, 17, who spent part of July at a technology recruiting and staffing firm. By day 4, he’d learned key aspects of a new computer language and was well into a special project. He previously worked as a lifeguard.
“It’s definitely useful to know more about the career that I’ve chosen,” said the student at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring.
These teenagers and more than 400 others in Montgomery County are marking the debut of a program called Summer RISE (Real Interesting Summer Experience). For three weeks of summer, ending Friday, they are matched with a business, government agency or nonprofit organization, earning a $300 stipend as they get to know more about potential careers.
“We knew we needed something for a school system that has 48,000 high school students,” said Will Jawando, director of the program, operated by the nonprofit WorkSource Montgomery. “Not only is this great for the kids to give them something to do, but also to show them opportunities exist and they don’t have to live somewhere else to get an interesting job.”
The program is not a classic internship or summer job initiative, but designed to be something in-between, for teenagers heading into 11th and 12th grades. There are no academic requirements, and most students don’t have previous job experience. They work an average of 20 hours a week.
“It’s really cutting edge, and I think the exact type of program we need in Montgomery County,” said School Board Member Jeanette Dixon. “It gives students a sense of what the possibilities are in terms of future employment, and it gives businesses a sense of who our students are, what the possibilities are for hiring. “
In the best case, she said, it could spark a job connection for the future or a passion about a particular field.
“You never know,” she said.
At several fire stations this week, high school students climbed into emergency vehicles with firefighters this week to get a first-hand view of the job.
In Silver Spring, a student riding in an ambulance watched as emergency medical technicians helped a woman in labor who was about to deliver a baby.
In Gaithersburg, Chante Stuppard, 17, went out with firefighters Thursday on an emergency call to help a man severely injured in his garage.
Stuppard said it capped a three-week experience that also included learning how to perform CPR, participating in physical agility testing and doing mock job interviews. As the program ends, she said she is thinking about the possibility of firefighting.
“It really opened my eyes,” said the rising senior at Clarksburg High. “They really do impact the community.”
More than 175 employers are involved in the program, including banks, research labs, construction companies, child-care providers, health-care concerns, senior living centers, at least one veterinarian and a wide range of school system and government offices. Four students are assigned at Kaiser Permanente’s medical facility in Gaithersburg.
Another five are at Willco, a commercial real estate company that manages buildings across the Washington region. Most of that group are shadowing maintenance engineers, helping with such tasks as painting, changing air filters, fixing plumbing and mopping floors.
“They are really getting a lesson in back-of-the-house commercial real estate, making sure everything is running smoothly,” said Stacy Cohen, director of human resources.
At the police department, students have gotten a glimpse into processing crime scenes, ensuring firearms safety, working in emergency communications and training dogs for the canine unit, said officer Ana Hester.
“We’re giving them little snippets of every part of the department,” she said.
Others have done their three-week stints at nonprofit organizations, including Community Bridges, which works in leadership development for under-served girls in grades 4 to 12.
Shannon Babe-Thomas, executive director, said her Summer RISE student was shy and unsure at first but has made great strides. She has grown confident surveying families served by the organization and improvised an online survey, she said.
“By the end of the first week, we already saw growth in her,” said Babe-Thomas, who said she would welcome the student back for an internship or other opportunity.
Other employers have been pleased, too.
Ralph Lary, chief executive of Arena Technical Resources, a technology recruiting and staffing firm in Rockville, said that the teenager he is hosting — Tyler Kitts — has shown initiative, skill and decorum.
“Beyond my wildest expectations,” he said.
The program’s 428 participants come from schools across the county and a variety of backgrounds. Forty-seven percent are black, 20 percent Hispanic, 16 percent white and 16 percent Asian. More than a third are from economically disadvantaged households.
Organizers want the program to expand to more than 1,000 students for next summer.
The idea dates to last fall, when county, school and community leaders discussed how to provide meaningful career exposure well before high school graduation.
It took shape with the help of local and state funding, including a $250,000 county appropriation, as well as some contributions from the private sector.
Students must submit applications and attend training on professionalism skills. The nonprofit group A Wider Circle gave about 100 students gently used professional clothing to wear to job sites.
Dominique Melo, 17, a rising senior at Northwest High, said her experience with the fire department has been hands-on and a launching point into the world of work. She hopes one day to become a pediatrician.
Melo recalled going out on an ambulance call to help a person who suffered a stroke.
“It’s really giving me experience and letting me work in the field before I even leave high school,” she said. “Most people don’t get to intern until they get to college.”