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A taste of real world for Westborough seniors

By Alyssa Martino

Contributing Writer

After interning at Whittier Rehab, Samantha Thompson, who recently graduated from WHS, is certain she's like to pursue a career in physical therapy. PHOTO/SUBMITTED

Westborough – It is easy to be under the impression that most seniors spend their final semester of high school writing papers, studying for final exams and perhaps planning a prank or two. But each year, 50 to 80 Westborough High School (WHS) seniors spend the last six weeks of their high school career in the workplace, not the classroom.

Westborough's QUEST internship program was started 37 years ago by former English teacher Emile Trahan to help students gain work experience. According to Colleen Debish, QUEST director and a member of Westborough's Physical Education and Wellness Department, the program has “been going strong ever since.”

Any senior with “great character and high academic standards” can develop a proposal and apply, said Debish, who began running the program six years ago. “I tell the kids: if you can dream it, you can do it.”

Approved students take their senior exams early and stop attending class for the last five-and-a-half to six weeks of the year.

“Some schools may have students participate for a couple hours in the afternoon but our students get a really good… sampling experience,” Debish said.

QUEST participants are required to attend their internship for 32 hours per week, which means that Michael Mcelligott is on-site at Assumption College helping with IT support from 8:15 a.m. to 2 p.m. during track season, and until 4 p.m. after the season is over.

“I wanted to make sure I was going to enjoy majoring in the computer field,” he said.

Samantha Thompson, a QUEST participant at Whittier Rehab, agreed that QUEST can help to find your niche early on.

“I think that a 17- or 18-year-old doesn's know what they want to pursue in life,” she said.

At Assumption, Mcelligott answers the help line, delivers equipment to professors and deals with computer viruses, and Thompson learns at the rehab center whether physical therapy (PT) would be the right career choice for her.

“It is such a rewarding career … I learned that all the PTs are caring and compassionate toward one another and also toward each and every patient,” Thompson said.

By shadowing PTs, Thompson has learned how to transfer patients, document therapy, walk with unstable patients and perform simple therapy, including range of motion exercises – activities a college PT major may not perform until it's too late to switch concentrations.

“Most colleges have you intern junior year,” Mcelligott said. “By then, it's too late to change your major.”

For some students, that's the true benefit of QUEST – finding out what he or she does not enjoy. Several years ago, a male student participated in a PT internship but decided it was not the right career for him.

“He ended up at culinary school and is now a chef,” Debish said. “He didn's waste time and money pursuing something he thought he's like.”

Additional advantages may exist for those who do find they take pleasure in their internship, as nearly 50 percent of participants are offered paid summer positions.

“Companies do some training and invest time in these student interns,” Debish said. “It's a win-win situation.”

Both Thompson and Mcelligott would recommend the program to incoming seniors.

“My tip to future QUEST interns is to pick an internship where you know that everything you'sl be doing is hands on,” Thompson said.

Whether a student aspires to do hands-on work or paperwork, work with kids or animals, or to be a chef, the QUEST program helps future-generation job seekers find direction before entering the next phase of their lives.

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