Imagine us last summer, our program staff of six – the Hexapod – spread out across the city in different board rooms and different office buildings, sitting across a conference table or a desk making the same ask to twenty different partners:
“We think this idea is the game-changer. Are you in?”
What we were talking about, of course, was Ed’s Executive Internship Program (EIP), a pie-in-the-sky idea four years in the making, a seed planted on our first site visit to UAB Hospital, the answer to the questions we’d been asking ourselves since 2012: “How are we making a difference in the lives of our kids in Birmingham City Schools?”
The answer, it has become perfectly clear, is the EIP: a competitive, paid 120-hour internship at some of the most well-respected, diverse, and successful companies in Birmingham. Partners at giants like UAB Hospital, CTS, Daxko, and Brasfield & Gorrie; non-profits like Teach for America, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, and the Southern Museum of Flight have come together to offer thirty-five of these coveted staff-mentored, on-the-job-learning, positions in their offices.
On a Wednesday at Daxko, Carver High School senior Mayco Heredia is not at his desk.
“Alright. Let’s see if we can find him,” says Janna Bradt, talent marketing manager at Daxko and our EIP point-of-contact.
We file past rows of colorful wall dividers and tech folks at standing-desks and rooms named after famous people. Not here, not there, not here. We round a corner and almost miss him: Mayco, tech guy, with his nose in a line of code.
“What have you learned so far?” I ask.
“Everything,” he says. “Everything there is to know, I feel like I know it now.”
Bernard Ball is the kind of kid that has always stood out in a crowd, but not because he is loud. Since we first met him in the 10th-grade we’ve notice these things about Bernard: he is quiet, he is listening, he is asking good questions. He is, more than anything, paying attention.
“I had a feeling this internship would be a great experience,” he says. “I felt like it would be a good career move.”
Was he right?
In a word? Yes. At Macknally Land Design, Bernard is “mastering photoshop and autocad,”he’s learning about plant species and shrubs, and “the level of detail that goes into [designing] 400 square feet.” Not to mention, he has the benefit of working alongside two people who are particularly well-suited to help Bernard navigate his next steps.
“Mr. and Mrs. Macknally are graduates of Mississippi State, [which is] pretty much my dream school. They are supporting my efforts to join the civil engineering program there. They don’t just want to hear about my dreams, they want to help me achieve them.”
“They’re on a conference call right now,” Allison Stephens at CTS tells me as we walk through the halls to the back of the Hoover office park building. “They should be done soon.”
And she is. Alma Hernandez is watching numbers and letters run across a screen, taking notes, while the team troubleshoots with a client. She smiles sheepishly while I take pictures. She takes her headset off a minute. She brushes her hair out of her face.
“I didn’t know you were coming today!” She laughs. “It’s nice to see you.”
This is the dream, y’all. You want to know what we live for at Ed? It’s this. The chance to walk into these buildings and find our kids behind these desks. The ones we have worked with for years, the ones we have come to know and to love. Some days the work is hard, some days it is exhausting, but watching our students become a part of the fabric of Birmingham, our partners folding them into their communities and daily work, feels like exactly the thing we’ve been searching for all these years.