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Sue Bush
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High School Seniors Find Experience The Best Teacher

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Saturday, April 29, 2006

Williamstown police Dispatcher Gary Thompson is serving as a mentor for Mount Greylock Regional High School senior year interns Christopher Miller and Matt England. Photo by Sue Bush
Williamstown - A Mount Greylock Regional High School internship program is delivering a heads-up, hands-on working-world experience that may be giving senior year students a leg up on their futures.

"What If I Hated It?"

"I bet out of 100 kids that I go to [college] with, 98 of them won't have had this experience," said Hannah Rinehart, 18, who expects to attend the Quinnipiac University in Conn. this fall.

She's planning to become a pediatric physical therapist and her college education has been planned to that end, but: "What if I got all into the PT stuff and then found out I hated it?"

That scenario is less likely because of the internships, said Rinehart and MGRHS middle school guidance counselor and internship program co-chairman Peter J. "P.J." Pannesco.

MGRHS senior student Hannah Rinehart is tackling an internship at the Williamstown Physical Therapy, Inc. facility. Photo by Sue Bush
Rinehart is spending the final semester of the school year interning at the Williamstown Physical Therapy offices. She is not permitted to actually provide services but she is able to observe and spend time talking with on-site therapists about the work.

"I am learning so much," Rinehart said. "Part of this program is to create goals and keep a journal. One of my goals is to review [patient] evaluations through the therapists. I observed two evaluations and it is pretty fascinating. I will be following the patient progress and see the process that they go through. That alone teaches so much. In this field, it isn't easy to find a placement and I was incredibly lucky that David and Jennifer Armet [facility owners] were willing to let me come here."

Because of her interaction with the Armets and other therapists, Rinehart said she is able to gain insights and understandings that would likely never be taught in a conventional classroom setting.

"I can talk to the therapists, I can talk about my ideas, " she said. "[David and Jennifer Armet] have been great about helping me get the most out of this."

"They Take On A Lot"

Pannesco described the program, which has been in place for about six years. Students must arrange for their own intern placements, and for the most part, the interns are not paid. The program requires most students to be at their internship site five days a week and the hours should follow the school day as much as possible.

The program is not a way to coast through the weeks before graduation, Pannesco said.

"We don't do this for them," Pannesco said of himself and program co-chairwoman Lynn Penna, an outreach crisis intervention specialist at the school. "What we say is 'if you want this, you do the leg work.' Then we follow up to make sure that everything is safe and legitimate. But they have to do the leg work, they have to find the mentor. They have to take a lot on to do this."

About 20 students are involved in this year's program. Pannesco explained that students who are enrolled in an Advanced Placement program may become involved with the internships but must start their placements at a later date because of the rigorous academic expectations of the "AP" curriculum.

Students must be in "good standing" at the school and have completed all graduation requirements to be eligible for internship participation. Any required academic work must be completed as requested and if a student fails to fulfill the program's obligations, that student will be returned to the school campus, Pannesco said.

Costs of implementing the internship program are funded through the Berkshire Regional Employment Board. The funding does not include any "pay" for the students, nor do he and Penna receive any stipend for their involvement. The work involved with keeping the program going is "all done during off-school hours," Pannesco emphasized.

There have been multiple occasions when students found their career choices didn't meet their expectations.

"Over the years, we've had some real revelations," Pannesco said.

Police Department Interns

Seniors Matt England, 17, and Christopher Miller, 18, are interested in law enforcement careers. Miller plans to attend Becker College and pursue a degree in criminal justice, while England expects to attend Franklin Pierce College and study environmental law.

Miller and England are interning at the Williamstown Police Department. Most intern hours are spent under the tutelage of long-time police dispatcher Gary Thompson. England has spent time out "in the field" with state Environmental Police Officer Teresa Walsh and Miller participated in a "ride-along" with town police Officer Preston Kelly.

Dispatchers: The "Main Brains"

Their experiences have solidified their career goals and led them to hold a greater respect for law enforcement officers, particularly the dispatchers.

"The dispatchers are the main brains of [all emergencies] that are in the town," said England. "They have to keep track if it's police, fire, or ambulance, or all at once. Without them, nothing would flow. I was overwhelmed just watching."

"Out To Protect People"

Miller described his ride-along experience. Numerous safety mechanisms were in place during the trip and Miller said that one of those measures meant he was not permitted to leave the vehicle while on the patrol. But remaining in the cruise did not diminish the value of the experience, he said.

"It's a different view, seeing it through the police perspective," he said. "It gives you a lot of understanding about what they do, and it is true, they are not all out to 'get people.' They are all out to protect people."

Miller and England said that they contacted town police Chief Kyle Johnson about their intern interest, and Johnson agreed to take the two on as observers. The police department has hosted high school interns in the past but this is the first time that two MGRHS interns have been brought to the station concurrently. The department is also hosting a Williams College intern, said police dispatcher Andrea Bryant.

England and Miller are "engaging" and "attentive," Bryant said. Both were a bit awed by the reality of police work when they first arrived at the station.

"This Is Real Life"

"They were overwhelmed on that first day," she said. "We are showing them that this isn't school, this is real life."

"I've learned much more here than I would have during the last weeks of school," England said. "And what I'm learning here is very valuable."

"I'm glad to be here," said Miller. "I'm actually learning something new and not just putting in time until school ends."

Internships are underway at a variety of Berkshire region sites, including the Lanesboro Elementary School, a TJ Maxx store, the Williams College Children's center, and the Williamstown Elementary School, Pannesco noted.

The program has helped erase any career choice doubts that she might have experienced, said Rinehart.

"For me, just getting to see the whole aspect of [physical therapy careers] before I even go to college helps me focus on college," she said. "I can see the professional aspects. That is what is so good about this program."

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at or at 802-823-9367.

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