Duncan Public Schools
High school student Micah Miller spent the 2020-2021 school year interning with 5B Aviation, thanks to Duncan Public Schools' Pathways to Future Careers program.(Provided)

DUNCAN — Last year, Duncan Public Schools passed one of the largest bond measures in the history of the district, approving nearly $28 million for projects. But, in addition to contributing monetarily to education in the district, the bond issue might help provide some students with hands-on work experience as well.

Duncan Public Schools Superintendent Tom Deighan said plans are in the works to allow students to participate in internships and apprenticeships with companies working on the school improvement projects funded by the bonds.

“This year, we’re hoping to expand our internships. We just passed a bond last year, and one thing our contractor — our Construction Manager at Risk — is committed to do is to bring in more students into internship apprenticeship programs,” Deighan said. “We hope to see students in plumbing, electrical, HVAC and other apprenticeships.”



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This is just the latest expansion of the district’s internship program, Pathways to Future Careers, which began in 2017 and gives students an opportunity to intern four days a week during two class periods at a local business or organization.

The program was made possible after the passage of HB 2535 in 2016, which allows schools to enter into agreements with public or private organizations for the purpose of creating internships, apprenticeships and mentorships that may fill the requirement of elective courses for high school juniors and seniors.

Since its inception four years ago, the district’s internship program has expanded to include 114 community partners, and 21 percent of the class of 2021 has participated.

“My view of a great school district is every student graduates with college or career experience when they cross the stage. Either college credits or an apprenticeship or internship,” Deighan said. “I’m a big believer that the more they get connected to the real world is a bridge to their next experience.”

‘Every student has their success story’

Duncan Public Schools
Duncan High School student Amaya Garcia interns with Woodlands Animal Hospital for the 2020-21 school year. (Provided)

Pathways to Future Careers coordinator and instructor Lesa Hefner said the program started taking shape in 2015 during quarterly meetings between the Duncan Area Economic Development Foundation, representatives from the local education sector and representatives from the various business sectors in the community, such as manufacturing, medicine and banking.

DAEDF was instrumental in getting the program started.

“There were representatives from all of those different entities in town because they saw the need to connect business and industry and education,” Hefner said. “We can talk about the skills gap all day and what kids need to do, but until we get the education community together with business and industry leaders we’re not making any headway, we’re just spinning our wheels.”

Hefner said the program is student-centric and begins with each student filling out an application listing three possible internships of interest. She said sometimes students have no clue what careers interest them, but that’s what her class is for.

“I ask them to define what they think success is, because that determines what they’ll want to do with their future,” Hefner said. “We do some activities to affirm the students’ interests and hopefully reveal interests the student might not know they had.”

Hefner is consistently networking with local businesses and organizations to add to the program and helps students identify internships they could be interested in pursuing. But, she said, students must interview for and be placed in internships based on their own merit.

“I can’t and the counselors here can’t tell every student everything about every job,” Hefner said. “But you get them with the right people to know the best schools to go to, how long it’s going to take, the good and the bad of the job opportunity — that’s what they need. They need to develop relationships with those people in those key industries to help them make those decisions.”

Hefner said students have interned in virtually every kind of business in the Duncan community, including veterinary clinics, nursing homes, mechanic shops, dental offices and even Halliburton and the Oklahoma Department of Transportation. She said the program can be as much about finding what you don’t want to do as it is finding what kind of career you do want to pursue.

Hefner told the story of a student from the first year of the program who had dreamed of becoming a dentist since she was young. However, by interning at a local dentist’s office, she discovered that career path wasn’t really her calling.

“For that young lady, at that point she was a senior in high school. That’s all she considered that was even on her radar of things for the future,” Hefner said. “A couple of years ago, I added another dentist to our business partners and told him that story about that girl, and he said that exactly the same thing happened to him. He went to school with a young lady, and she became a dentist and as soon as she gets all her loans paid off, she won’t be a dentist a day longer because she doesn’t like it.”

Hefner said the internship program saved that student and her family time, money and potential unhappiness in her career.

“She could’ve been in that same boat and not be happy,” Hefner said.

Hefner said she has about 55 students enrolled in the internship program for the upcoming school year.

“Every student has their success story. Every student has that ‘ah-ha’ moment,” Hefner said.

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‘It’s a partnership’

Duncan Public Schools
Duncan High School student David Warburton works on a computer processor during his internship with PC Wizard during the 2020-21 school year. (Provided)

Duncan Area Economic Development Foundation president Lyle Roggow said the internship program has been beneficial to Duncan businesses as well.

“It’s a partnership between all the entities,” Roggow said. “The education system understands how valuable it is for them. It gives the students a glimpse (of possible careers), and it helps the business community be involved in the classroom in a different way as well.”

One of the benefits for businesses participating in the program is that it can create a pipeline of future employees.

Roggow said it was important to bridge the gap between the education and business sectors and that the internship program gives students more clarity about how to achieve their career goals — whether it requires higher education or training at a career technology center.

“This allows students an opportunity to find occupations that they have a burning desire to want to do and will enjoy going to work at each and every day,” Roggow said.

Deighan said local businesses have realized that their best future employees might currently be in Duncan Public Schools and that hundreds of businesses have had interns since the program’s inception.

“You walk all over this community, and we have kids doing great things,” Deighan said.