Credit: Andrew Giambrone

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Precious Jones wants to start her own business.

The 11th-grader at Columbia Heights Education Campus is wearing a navy blue blazer emblazoned with a crest that displays “hospitality,” the concentration she’s pursuing through one of D.C. Public Schools’ career academies. On this daunting Wednesday morning, Jones is one of several CHEC students eagerly interviewing in the school’s library with employers from around the District. Among the mix: the White House, the Washington Nationals, and the Ritz Carlton.

The tenor seems oddly formal for a room encircled by the Dewey Decimal System, but the kids are taking it seriously. Some maintain eye contact and gesticulate as company reps nod their heads and take notes, asking questions like “Are you nervous?” Or, more to the point: “Why should you be selected for this internship?” and “What could you offer?”

“When summer’s over, I hope to be better at public speaking,” Jones, a resident of Southeast, admits. “I’m a little shy.”

She gives a firm handshake before going off to her next interview.

This year, for the first time, DCPS is coordinating with the Marion S. Barry Summer Youth Employment Program to get 500 students paid summer internships. The students, who must be enrolled in a career-focused curriculum such as IT or engineering and have completed their freshman year, will get approximately two-month stints from any of about 75 organizations. Employers get to set their own limit on how many students to host and design their internship program.

“We’re really focused on creating more partnerships with the private sector,” says Molly Nunez, a spokesperson for the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Greater Economic Opportunity, which oversees MBSYEP. “We want to make sure that our youth are on the pathway to college and career, and working in internships that become the track to a career.”

The funding for the summer internships will come out of MBSYEP; organizations themselves can pay students above what they’ll earn through the program but aren’t required to. Students will have exit interviews at their internship’s end.

“We’re looking for kids who are willing to learn,” says Demetra Kittles, the director of human resources at Centerplate, a company that caters events at the Convention Center. “[These] students give some positive feedback for our youth.”

Raven Smith, a CHEC sophomore, notes that some of her friends plan to travel for study abroad or get a job this summer; she’s personally excited, though, to do something that feels more adult. She prepared with mock interviews.

“I think an internship would be different because you’d mostly be with people older than you in a working environment,” she explains. “You have to show you’re able to handle what other people can in the real world.”