Everything We Did to Make the Most of Our Time Together on Zoom

“No experience is a wasted experience,” said Angela Taylor to the interns in my breakout room. Ms. Taylor, an engineer at Google, was one the many panelists to join Enterprise for Youth’s internal internship program this summer. As I reflect on this experience, I am struck by just how relevant this approach to life is. This quote should be on the summer’s T-shirt (which we saw being made, but more on that later), as it reflects the attitude of everyone involved with this summer: the organization, our many volunteers, and most importantly the youth who took advantage of the opportunity to hone their communication and networking skills over the new ZOOM reality.

Mark D’Acquisto is a social studies teacher at Mission High
where he is also the department chair of Career Pathways.

Losing 44 partners and 171 internships to the pandemic, Enterprise For Youth quickly pivoted to salvage the internship experience that was promised to its participants. It was late May when CEO, Ninive Calegari, reached out to me with a crazy idea—would I join her for the summer to co-facilitate an internal, totally Zoom-based internship that focused on career exploration, networking, and communication skills? As a public school teacher fresh off the rocky transition to “distance learning”, I will admit that I was not exactly thrilled with the idea of spending my summer break by donning my blue light glasses and mastering the art of breakout rooms. And yet, I also live by Ms. Taylor’s words and knew that the experience would only help me come Fall when I most likely would be tasked with starting a school year over this new medium. How does one build community, trust, and relationships in a completely virtual world? So joined by 46 youth, and a team of eager teaching assistants, I decided to find out.

The format was quite straightforward. The youth joined us 3 mornings a week at 9 am, and for the next 4 hours they would experience “work” the same way many of us now do. There were collaborative projects, workshops on resumes and LinkedIn profiles, career panels, presentations on issues of financial literacy, cybersecurity, and telling your own story. There was even a virtual tour of Babylon Burning, a local printing company, where the youth met the lead graphic designer and witnessed their summer Enterprise T-shirt being created. We made constant use of Zoom’s best feature, the breakout room, where our youth interns met with industry leaders, mentors, and each other. They learned how to ask career-focused questions to adults, they participated in two “book club” discussions where they explored the lives of impactful people, and they interviewed employees from Salesforce and Dropbox on how to best utilize their own networks and LinkedIn profiles.

I want to thank the youth who made this summer fruitful. Despite “Zoom fatigue” and the emotional loss of school, friends, and for some, their graduation, they leaned-in this summer. They showed up for work on time, they turned on their cameras, they volunteered to lead book group discussions and moderate career panels, they transformed their resumes and LinkedIn profiles, and they asked many, many, great questions. These are troubling times that we are all experiencing, but the time, the effort, and love that everyone involved demonstrated over the past five weeks give me hope for our world, our country, and our future. Even though the experience was virtual, these youth did not waste their summer break and neither did I.   

By Mark D’Acquisto, Social Studies Teacher and Department Chair of Career Pathways at Mission High
July 20, 2020