High Tech High Charter School: The Academic Internship « Center on Educational Governance (CEG)

High Tech High Charter School: The Academic Internship

High Tech High Charter School:
The Academic Internship

High Tech High Charter School

San Diego, California
Founded 1999
2500 students
Grades K-12
42% White, 33% Hispanic, 11% African-American, 6% Asian, 6% Filipino, 1% Native American, 1% Pacific Islander
Student body includes English language learners, special-needs students and those who receive subsidized meals*
Teachers not part of collective bargaining unit

Source: Center on Educational Governance, 2008.

Chartered in 1999 by the San Diego Unified School District, High Tech High blends traditional college prep
curriculum with career technical experience. According to the school’s charter, “The vision of High Tech High School is to offer all students a rigorous, college-preparatory curriculum and real-world work experience which prepares them to be successful citizens in 21st century America.”

The school’s semester-long internship program is in its sixth year. Juniors at HTH’s three campuses must complete 140 hours at their internship to receive credit. HTH partners with 650 possible work-site placements.


On Tuesday and Thursday, starting at 12:30 p.m., each internship student spends three to four hours at the internship. In addition to worksite responsibilities, the student completes a series of documents and reports, including an intern profile for placement, work site reports, classroom assignments related to the internship and a year-end presentation.  The students are also responsible for arriving on time at the work site on time and notifying the work site should an absence occur.

Each intern is supported by the internship coordinator, the site mentor and the core academic teacher.

The internship coordinator, a full-time position, is responsible for communication and feedback between the student, teacher, parent, and mentor. She places each student at a business; follows up to make sure each is a good fit; and solicits new business sites for possible internships. The internship coordinator also visits the intern at the work site and helps the student with written assignments and the year-end presentation.

The mentor supervises the intern onsite, helps the student plan his project, assigns tasks and provides feedback to the internship coordinator. For each intern, the mentor completes the High Tech High Intern Performance Review and a program called Coffee Talk, in which the intern interviews the mentor about her career, preferably outside the workplace. 

The core academic teacher grades the interns’ journals and designs classroom curriculum around the internship experience, visiting internship sites to maximize effectiveness. For example, a teacher with interns in the biotech field spent time demonstrating correct pipette usage and protocol: a skill necessary for both their internships and future employment in the field.

While the juniors are on internship, the rest of the school is in an elective period called X block, which includes activities such as yoga, climbing and tutoring.  Core academic teachers responsible for interns do not teach X block, in order to visit interns at their work sites.


HTH staff did not provide an exact budget cost but mentioned three important budget elements: one full-time intern coordinator position at each site, the contract with MANPOWER Inc. and the cost of transportation (bus passes and school vans).  In terms of facilities, each internship coordinator requires a private office to meet with students and prospective mentors throughout the day.

High Tech High teachers require curiosity about how their courses are reflected in the workplace. Internship coordinators need to be familiar with the worlds of business and community organizations and have the ability to create partners and do outreach.
Teachers, mentors and intern coordinators must be able to collaborate and communicate with one another.

All teachers and coordinators meet daily prior to the school day. They also are required to attend one 90-minute staff development meeting per semester that focuses on the Academic Internship.  Junior core teachers spend approximately an hour a week on internship planning.

Lessons Learned

Most modifications to the Academic Internship were made in the interest of better personalizing – for both the student and the work site — and ensuring the academic content of the experience.

Initially, internship students were not paired with core academic teachers, but rather with any teacher. It was easier logistically, the school director said, but the academic curriculum and the internship failed to align, thus leading to the current policy: “If the students are going out at a biotechnology firm then they will be paired with a biotechnology teacher.  This is done to strengthen the connections between the classroom and the work site.”

Originally, some students went in a group of three of four to their internship and shared a mentor. In order to personalize the experience, the school no longer works with businesses that cannot provide one mentor per student. For example, if 10 students intern at Qualcomm, the company provides 10 mentors

Students are no longer placed students randomly at work sites because often, the needs of the students and the companies did not match. High Tech High now contracts with MANPOWER Inc. to schedule interviews between students and prospective companies in order to make the appropriate pairing

After the program’s first three years, the school created a full-time internship coordinator position. “We discovered that if you want a bona fide internship program that is central to your school, it can’t just be this little program on the side,” the school director said. “We realized that we need one person who can devote 100 percent of his or her time to the internship.”

During the first years of internships, many businesses did not understand the need for intellectual rigor; many interns filed papers and carried boxes. HTH needed to make considerable effort to teach companies about the school’s expectations. “If the company doesn’t really agree with us, then we end the placement relationship with the company,” the school director said.


High Tech High’s Academic Internship shows students the real-world application of their academic coursework, a valuable lesson usually learned much later than junior year in high school. The interns also connect with a mentor in the work force, widening their perspective and creating a template for future networking.

HTH students use their experiences to write their college application personal statements and reflect on internship during the college interview. The school has a 100 percent college acceptance rate, with 80 percent to four-year institutions.

Each year, the school asks students to rank their top three most important courses: Academic Internship is always in the top three.


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