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Glen Oaks high school helps students make WISE decisions

When Bellerose resident Tiji George began her senior year at the Queens High School for Teaching last year, the student knew she wanted to pursue medicine in college, but was not sure exactly what part of the field to pursue.

By the end of the year, she had traveled to India to study its health care system and had a definite plan for her future. George hopes to open gynecology clinics in the developing world, including India and possibly Africa.

George, now a student at the City College of New York in Manhattan, said this evolution came thanks to a relatively new program at the Queens High School for Teaching in Glen Oaks called Wise Individualized Senior Experience.

“WISE gave me an opportunity to take a risk and go to India for two weeks,” said George, who lived in New Delhi, the capital, before moving to Bellerose. “ It really shaped me into who I am now.”

The Glen Oaks institution is the only high school in the city to offer the yearlong WISE class, a national program that is in about 100 schools throughout the country. WISE, implemented in the Queens school last year, allows seniors to spend much of their spring semester in an out-of-school internship.

George, for example, went to India and interned at Parker Jewish Hospital in order to compare the country’s health care systems. This year students will soon begin working at an elementary school, a bakery and a makeup store, among many other sites.

Janine Polla Werner, an assistant principal at the high school, said students in the first semester “begin to taste what it’s like to become a self-sustaining adult,” including developing research and presentation skills. They learn how to craft résumés and go on job interviews and Werner said by the time they apply for their internships they are ready to launch themselves into the adult world.

The 62 students in this year’s program — up from the 20 who signed up last year — each choose an adult mentor for the class, who can be anyone in the school community, whether a janitor or an administrator.

“We’re preparing their networking skills and how to talk to adults,” said Gina Valenze, a WISE coordinator who co-teaches the WISE course along with James Woolsey.

Rose Morel, a senior, said the mentors make a big difference in the students’ lives.

“My mentor is my best friend,” she said.

As the school year comes to an end, WISE students give one-hour presentations about their internships to a panel of their peers, parents, teachers and community members.

“By the end, the kids really have learned they can do something they love in the real world,” said Werner, who originally suggested that the school implement WISE.

Jazmine Enriquez, a senior, reiterated Werner’s statement and said the course helps students adjust to what life will be like after graduation.

“It gets you out into the world,” said Enriquez, who will intern in a bakery to pursue her interest in culinary arts. “You get used to the surroundings of a work day.”

Queens High School for Teaching Principal Eric Contreras said WISE helps students formulate concrete plans about their future.

“It isn’t sufficient anymore to just get them into college,” Contreras said. “We have to explore what they’ll do in those four or two short years. With today’s economy there’s little time to squander four years without purpose.”

Senior Kellivea Smallwood called it a “really cool experience” that has given her a chance to intern in a Glen Oaks elementary school.

“In the beginning of the year, I didn’t know if I wanted to be a teacher or a psychologist, so this really helped me,” Smallwood said.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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