Trying It Out: Next Charter Students Pursue Internships

Sara Dompolo of Litchfield calmly discussed her daily and weekly schedule. She attends Next Charter School as a senior, and works part time at a day care and part time in a nursing home. “Oh, and I go to college,” she added, almost as an afterthought.

Dompolo is a member of Next’s first class of graduating students. As a senior, she is participating in the Capstone Project, a combined internship, research paper and guiding star to help her in the world after Next. It’s a taste of the adult world that both she and fellow senior Jake Crowley are relishing.

Dompolo didn’t like high school, and was on the verge of dropping out from her former school. “I was failing miserably, and had every intention of dropping out at 18,” she said. She had anxiety issues and spent a lot of time outside of class, she said, and she was ready to bolt.

Instead, she came to Next as a junior. The smaller school, student-centered education and hands-on curriculum changed her course.

She didn’t initially like the idea of Capstone, and quit it several times. “I don’t like to talk to people,” she said. But obtaining her LNA (Licensed Nursing Assistant) certification – at night, in her spare time – changed Dompolo. She knew she wanted a career in medicine, and she rejoined Capstone. She’s doing a double internship, at the nursing home and daycare, and studying the field with the intention of a career in pediatric medicine.

Jake Crowley of Derry spent two years at Pinkerton Academy before switching to Next as a junior. “I liked the idea of developing my own learning experience,” Crowley said. “I wanted to incorporate my interests into my school work.”

Crowley has always enjoyed antiques, and found his Capstone project, and possible profession, through a network of acquaintances. He’s now apprenticed with horologist Steve Mitchell of Concord, who specializes in clock and watch repair.

Crowley has been apprenticed to Mitchell for a little over a year and enjoys the work.

Dompolo started her Capstone project at the end of the last school year. Students are required to spend 300 hours at a site, write a thesis and present it before a board, she said.

Dompolo goes to the day care every afternoon after school, and works 16 to 20 hours at the nursing home on weekends. She’s learned a lot about health care, and especially dementia and Alzheimer’s, she said.

Crowley goes to Concord four days a week, leaving school at 11 a.m. “One thing that surprised me,” he said, “is I never knew how vast the watch and clock world is. I knew there was a following, but not how big and profitable it is.”

The only drawback to his apprenticeship, he said, is the distance he travels to work with Mitchell.

Neither student can remember an “Aha” moment. “It came together slowly for me,” Crowley said. “Over time, I developed more and more interest in the business.” The typical apprenticeship for a watch and clock repairer, or horologist, is seven years, he said, and he’s in for the long haul.

Dompolo said her interest in her field was confirmed over time. “I’m amazed at how happy the children are to see you when you come in,” she said.

Both agreed that time is a challenge, though Crowley has finished most of his required classes for graduation. Dompolo works her two Capstone jobs and goes to New Hampshire Technical Institute as a non-matriculated student, taking some of her nursing courses as a high school senior. When does she sleep? “Never,” she said with a smile.

But both agreed it’s worth it, with valued skills attained and direction focused on their futures.

“When I first heard about Capstone,” Crowley said, “I thought it was too good to be true.”