Something to take to college, Darien seniors experience dose of real world
One thing Kevin Koenitzer said he knows for sure is he's not going back to the United Nations. A Darien High School graduate of the class of 2012, Koenitzer spent his last semester commuting to a UN office in New York City for his senior internship second semester.
"I know for a fact now that I do not ever want to work in the UN," Koenitzer told the Board of Education in June. "It's really not for me. A little too much politics, and it gets a little repetitive after a while. But I certainly really enjoyed it. It was a lot of fun, extremely interesting and I think, probably one of the most useful things that came out of it is that I can put it on my CV, my resume."
Koenitzer, who will be attending the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University in the fall, was in the company of several high school graduates who participated in the senior internship program. They shared stories with the BOE and public of an experience that, for many seniors, will follow them to college and beyond.
"The place that I was, the UN, was giving me insight on certain things that I will be able to use in college," Koenitzer said, adding that working in a professional environment was a valuable experience. He said he took a train into the city and his first task to check the mail. But then it got more intense.
"I put together a report my second week of the internship on the UN Women organization, which is an organization that works for women's right across the world," he said. "It had its yearly review and so I covered all that, and I wrote a report at the end of it that ended up being 56 pages long. It's probably one of the harder things I've ever done, but I felt accomplished when I finished it."
Many students who participated in the senior internship program, which was coordinated by DHS teacher Lauren DiStefano and guidance counselor Lisa Messineo, said they commuted to the city for their internship. Felicia Knise, also at the BOE meeting, rode the train into the city with Koenitzer on occasion.
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"My commute was probably about an hour and a half," Knise said. "I got there at 9 [a.m.] and I would leave usually between 3 and 3:30."
Knise worked at Darrin Haddad Photography, a small studio specializing in still life and product photography.
"Almost each day, except for two, we shot for Clinique," she said of the skin care, makeup and fragrance product line. "Because Clinique is totally redesigning their website."
For this project, she said, they would photograph jars of lotion.
"My first day, I got to prep the jars, so I was able to clean [and] wipe down the jars," she said, adding that her boss, Darrin Haddad, eventually let her operate the camera.
"I definitely learned a lot," Knise said. "I learned a lot more than I would have at school. I had never done anything too in depth with commercial and still photography."
Knise plans to study photography at James Madison University. She said she took photography class in school, but this experience with photography was a step above the rest.
"A lot of my friends told me I don't want to miss the prank, I don't want to miss senior skip day, and stuff like that," she said, recalling a conversation she had with a co-worker.
"That's what I told him," she said, "and he was like, `That's kind of weird because I remember my internship with something I was passionate about more than I remember my last four weeks of high school.'"
"Last year, we had 58 seniors do the internship," DiStefano told the BOE. "This year we had 36 seniors do the internship. It was a little bit of a drop, but we took a random poll of 80 seniors, trying to figure out why there was a drop."
She said 49 out of 80 students who took a poll said "sentimentality" was their reason for not participating in the senior internship program, according to DiStefano.
"[They believed] that they wanted to enjoy their senior year, they wanted to be with their friends, they figured they had the rest of their lives to work," she said.
"I did plenty of hanging out with my friends," Jay Alter, who interned at the sports radio program Boomer & Carton in the Morning, said. "[My friends] are in school, so at night we were able to see each other like usual. I would just be very tired."
"I would still have to watch most of the sports games that were wrapping up around 11:30, midnight," he said. "And then having to wake up around 3:30 in the morning was not a lot of sleep. I learned to appreciate naps."
Alter said he arrived at 4:30 most mornings and helped prepare for the 6 a.m. show. He also performed varying tasks, from looking for and arranging sound bites to feeding Boomer's parking meter.
"It was all awesome," he said. "Even feeding Boomer's parking meter was awesome. I just thought that was really cool."
School starts in August for Alter, who already has something to take with him when he studies sports journalism at Syracuse University.
"Being in a real studio obviously will help me when I got to college next year," he said, adding, "Just having an eye for a story. They have four hours to fill and they have to come up with lots of stories, lots of things to talk about."
Danny Rizzuto agreed doing an internship is an eye-opening experience.
"The internship [program] at Darien really shows students to step outside the bubble that is Darien and see the world," he said.
The world Rizzuto got to see was the music and nightlife industry. He interned at Tammany Hall in New York City.
"My main goal was promotion, so I would update the website, update Twitter," he said, adding that finding time to see friends was an issue.
"My hours were much different than most people on the internship," Rizzuto said. "I wouldn't get home until 8:30 [p.m.], so it was kind of hard to see friends."
Rizzuto said he missed some friends, especially ones he wished he had more time with. Yet, he said he wouldn't trade away his experience because it gave him a new perspective about the working world.
"If you enjoy your job, it really isn't work at all," he said. "So finding the right job is important to me now."
But Rizzuto's next step is to go to Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
"Obviously music is going to be a part of my future, but it's not going to be the focus," he said.
"It was a very weird experience because people looked at me as a teacher and not as an intern," Pasquarella said.
Although he went from one high school to another, Pasquarella didn't feel like a student in Weston.
"It was a big change getting up earlier in the morning, going to school," he said. "The first few days I was questioning why I was doing this."
He also faced challenges, like adapting to students' individual needs and balancing the attention he gave to each student. Pasquarella said he taught freshmen and sophomores.
However, he said, "It was pretty comforting because I had the teacher in the room with me."
This won't always be the case, he admitted.
"I feel like this gives me an advantage over people who want to be teachers," he said. "I already have that experience, so when I do student teach, I know how difficult it's going to be."
Pasquarella is off to Dean College in the fall. The school doesn't have a secondary education program, but he said he will continue to search for the right school.
"I'm extremely excited," he said. "College can't get here and go by fast enough."
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