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Internships for Girls

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The kind of career-development initiatives encouraged by the School-to-Work Opportunities Act signed into law by President Clinton in May are particularly valuable for girls. As the Take Our Daughters to Work Day, sponsored each spring by the Ms. Foundation, has demonstrated on a national scale, placing the career focus on girls, if only for a symbolic day, can help combat the sudden drop in self-esteem many of them experience at the onset of adolescence. At that crucial preparatory time of life, girls tend to form opinions of themselves based on their physical appearance, rather than on their skills and intellectual aptitudes.

Research conducted by the Washington-based group Wider Opportunities for Women shows that by the turn of the century--barely six years from now--two out of three new labor-force entrants will be women. Yet women continue to be enrolled in education and training programs that prepare them for low-wage jobs in traditionally female occupations, and women doing the same jobs as men still earn less.

My school's experience with adolescent girls underscores recent research indicating the critical importance of giving young women the tools they need to develop self-esteem and hold high career expectations. Since 1967, we have operated a comprehensive experiential-learning program that provides established internships for students, similar to those offered at colleges and universities. The program helps students learn practical skills, teaches them lessons of accountability, fosters a tradition of service, and gives them real-world experiences that make a meaningful connection between the classroom and the larger world.

The success of the program reinforces for us each year the life- and career-plotting benefits girls can attain from internships. But to be successful, we have learned, high school internship programs must have the following six features:

Comprehensive school-internship programs can help address an important need for all teenagers, and especially girls, by providing them with a continuing link between school and work, while preparing them for life in the 21st century. Schools should seize the moment and use the national focus on school-to-work programs--and on spurring higher aspirations in adolescent girls--to create programs that bridge the gap between secondary school and future goals.

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