At Codman Square Health Center, it’s a “win-win” with summer internships

Wilkendy Santana-Baez with her supervisor Jodie Williams in the phlebotomy lab.

Codman Academy Charter Public School has always felt like a place where good things are happening. That was my impression when I first walked through its front doors 15 years ago and was warmly greeted by two young students. As I would learn, this wasn’t a scripted welcome but the result of intentional community building that has been at the heart of the school from the beginning.

Back then, the school occupied a handful of classrooms on the bottom floor of the Codman Square Health Center. But its founding director, Meg Campbell, envisioned an innovative school in the heart of Dorchester that utilized the entire city as its campus and engaged students through expeditionary learning. I was drawn to this vision and wanted to be a part of it. Before long, I was coaching the mock trial team, teaching a law course on Saturday mornings, and even coaching the girls basketball team for a season.

The school has grown and matured greatly since then. It now serves students from grades K1 through 12 and has expanded to a new state of the art building and beautifully renovated space on Washington street. Its current Head of School and founding humanities teacher, Thabiti Brown, is justifiably proud of all the school has accomplished.

I recently met with a group of Codman students and recent graduates who have been busy this summer working in full-time paid internships at the Codman Square Health Center. Started seven years ago with four interns, the program now serves 23 students, each of whom completed a competitive application process to earn their spot.

Students receive extensive training to prepare them to join the staff in a variety of departments including dentistry, pediatrics, nutrition, behavioral health, phlebotomy, HIV/Aids, facilities, and information technology.

The program is overseen by Anthony Stankiewicz, Chief Advancement Officer at Codman Square Health Center, and implemented by Chetna Naimi, who has a joint position with the health center and Codman Academy. It is fully funded through financial support from Blue Cross Blue Shield and John Hancock’s MLK Scholars program.

The students, who uniformly describe their experience as positive and rewarding, said they loved the opportunity to work in a professional setting. New skills they value include patience, professionalism, time management, and the ability to collaborate and communicate effectively with people from different backgrounds.

The experience has also helped many of them gain confidence and the ability to see themselves as professionals in the future. After working side by side with a dental hygienist, doing patient intake, and helping with X-rays, Luis Sequeira reports that he now wants to pursue a career as a dentist or hygienist. Jhilari Michel Alexis says shadowing a Nurse Practitioner in the HIV/Aids clinic, where she saw the impact of the epidemic on her community and especially on young women of color, made her want to become an NP.

Yolanda Burrell, director of the dental department, which hosted six students this summer, says at first some staff members felt they were too busy to supervise high school students with no professional experience. But over time they began to appreciate their role as teachers and mentors and to see how much the young people had to offer.

“It’s really a win-win,” says Jodie Williams, a lab manager who supervised Wilkendy Santana-Baez, a rising junior she describes as bright, eager to learn, hard-working, and extremely respectful. “The relationship doesn’t end here,” she adds, explaining that she has already made plans to meet with Wilkendy on a regular basis as she navigates the college application process.

This type of meaningful collaboration between a school and community health center should be expanded and held up as a model to be replicated. The result would be transformative not just for young people but the entire community. Seventeen years after opening its doors, Codman Academy is still a place where good things are happening.