Unlike most 18-year-olds around the country, Aliyah Phillips, a senior at Milken Community High School, was able to escape the confines of the classroom during her second semester. Instead, Phillips spent the term working at the Israeli consulate as a public affairs intern.
Through Wise Individualized Student Experience (WISE), Phillips was able to turn her appreciation for Israel into a real-life work situation by helping to create a Junior Ambassador program for the consulate.
"Eleventh-grade students from Jewish schools and Hebrew schools in the area can come and sort of be part of a network and plan programs and use the consulate as a resource," Phillips said. She plans to maintain her new professional contacts and use her experience when she leaves for Ben-Gurion University of the Negev later this summer.
Like Phillips, other Milken seniors gained valuable experience by participating in WISE, a nationwide program that the school for the past three years has incorporated into its 12th-grade curriculum.
"Four years ago, we began looking at senior year and the problem that seniors become less interested in the spring with the standard program, and what would be some creative ways to give kids the kinds of skills and experiences that we would like them to have as they go out into the world," explained Nancy Schneider, director of alumni affairs-internship coordinator.
As a result, Milken became the second school in California -- and the first private one -- to participate in the program, which originated at Woodlands High School in New York in 1973. While each school tailors the program to its own needs, the core agenda involves participating in an internship for academic credit. At Milken, students must work at their chosen company or organization for at least five hours a week, meet with a school mentor, research their chosen field, make a 45-minute presentation, keep a journal and take a school economics class.
Shira Saltsman chose to do her internship at Temple Ahavat Shalom in Northridge, where she worked with Cantor Patti Linsky. "There are three aspects of my life that are really important to me," Saltsman said. "They are Judaism, psychology and music. I thought that being a junior cantor was a way to incorporate them all."
Future doctor Yoni Blau spent the semester in scrubs at Kaiser Permanente in Woodland Hills, where he learned about hip replacements. Standing just three feet away during surgery, Blau said he was awed by the experience. "Surgeons can change someone's life," said the senior, who hopes to major in chemistry at USC this fall.
For Michelle Meged, who helped promote up-and-coming bands for Vagrant Records, the experience served a different purpose. "I didn't take this internship for any professional objective," Meged admitted. "It's about becoming more independent and learning how to work with people. Also, I got to drive and sit in traffic for an hour like a regular adult."
"By and large, the kids get a huge amount out of [the program]," Schneider explained. "Not everybody uses it as a career steppingstone, but the majority of [the students] do.
"They either find out that it's not what they want to do, or it is what they want to do. And for those who find out that it's not, how great that they didn't waste their time in college majoring in something they're never going to do," she said.
Some students were offered summer jobs, like Adam Somers, who learned electronic music production at Element Music & Soundesign. Initially, Somers' tasks were administrative, but he was eventually given an opportunity to use his creative talents. "I'm going to have more responsibilities now," Somers said.
Phillips admitted that in addition to her professional accomplishments, her experience at the Israeli consulate has contributed to her growth as a person and as a Jew. "I learned how to deal with different kinds of personalities and how to be assertive and find myself in a workplace," she noted. "Also, I learned a lot about Israel, like good tactics to use if I was ever in a situation where I had to defend Israel."