‘You have to tap into something other than the rote learning’


The three women who run the internship program at University Preparatory Academy High School in Detroit aren’t just giving students a peek into life beyond high school. They’re helping this struggling school, where test scores have slid in recent years, improve academic achievement.

The key to that work? Getting kids engaged in school.

The internships foster “good skills that every student needs in order to become a highly effective student,” said Randi Millard, the director of the program who works alongside Carolyn Matigian, the recruitment lead, and Jessica Martiny, the logistics lead.

And when kids are engaged, they tend to do better academically. The school is ranked at the 10th percentile.

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“I’ve created some amazing relationships with students,” said Matigian. “I can’t say enough how important it is to get to know students in a well-rounded way. Oftentimes, we are the people who get to know the students that don’t get the attention in the traditional classroom format.”

Those relationships come in handy when tough conversations are needed with students, like when they have to provide a reality check to those who aspire to a certain career but aren’t taking the right classes.

Senior Ashley Brooks wants to be a social worker. And her internship at the Children’s Aid Society was designed to help her decide whether that’s a realistic dream. It’s an opportunity she doesn’t think she’d have at just any school, and because of that, she says, “I cherish and value it.”

And the women who run the program?

“They’re like a blessing,” Ashley said.

“They’re always there for me, helping me know what I want to do when I grow up,” said junior Michael Foster who completed an internship at AIDS Partnership Michigan and aspires to a career in human services.

The internship program began years ago with the idea that “you have to find a young person’s passion,” said Margaret Trimer-Hartley, the chief external relations officer for the school’s nonprofit management company, Detroit 90/90. “You have to tap into something other than the rote learning and state standards.”

The initial goal was to boost high school graduation at the 10-year-old school. And while the school has succeeded on that front — with 93% of its students graduating and about 90% of those graduates enrolling in postsecondary options — school leaders recognize they also need to ensure that the students who graduate are college-ready. Students now have to meet academic requirements in order to be eligible for an internship and must commit to keeping their grades up during the internship.

Trimer-Hartley said the school’s ranking — which slipped from the 35th percentile in 2011 to the 10th percentile in 2013 — had been the result of leadership instability, which has been resolved.

“We are stable now, and we believe that makes a big difference,” Trimer-Hartley said.

Contact Lori Higgins: 313-222-6651, lhiggins@freepress.com