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Harrison Hicks, 16, working at his Filtrine Manufacturing Co. internship in New Hampshire. Credit: Allegra Boverman

KEENE, N.H.  — Harrison Hicks, 16, sat at a small corner desk in the offices of Filtrine Manufacturing Company, a maker of water filtration equipment, drawing circles as his mentor, Josh Flagg, watched.

In school, Harrison had just finished studying the circle in geometry. Now he listened intently as Flagg taught him how to use a circle to calculate the angle of a filtration part, which was then going to be manufactured on site.  Flagg said proudly that Harrison was doing “as much as our college-level interns do.”

Harrison is a student at the Making Community Connections (or MC2) Charter High School, at the foot of Mt. Monadnock in this college and tourist town. A series of twice-a-week internships are required to graduate from MC2-Monadnock, and they’re taken very seriously.

Down the road at the Montessori Schoolhouse, 15-year-old Ella Connolly and 14-year-old Abby Snow usher a pack of two-year-olds into the backyard playground of the 18th-century farmhouse that serves as the school’s building. Abby, a former Montessori Schoolhouse student herself, says she hopes to run her own nursery school one day.

Over in neighboring Walpole, Ben Bigaj, 18, helps coordinate building projects at Bensonwood, a builder of custom timber-frame homes and other structures. Bigaj says that before he transferred to MC2 he had “a lot of anxiety” and was very quiet. In the Bensonwood plant, he laughs and jokes with adult employees, a big grin on his face.

In the nearby town of Swanzey, Brad Hinkel, 17, does a lot of sweeping up for a shop called Full Throttle, but he also gets to work on engines and learn how the motorcycle and ATV business works.

Related: How kids are getting into college by mastering their skills

Back in Keene, Caitlin Sheridan-Gasaway, 16, is sorting groceries and making decorations for a “green eggs and ham” children’s party in the Community Kitchen food pantry. She has also started a project to help families with food intolerances and allergies get the products they need.

“Internships engage students in real-world learning through one-on-one relationships with an adult mentor. Our job is to connect that work into the skills and knowledge that they have to have.”

These experiences are not just useful for the community and for boosting students’ confidence. They’re also essential to achieving competency on the various learning standards at school, according to Kim Carter, who founded the MC2 School in 2003. Her vision dovetailed with the state’s move to get rid of the traditional system that gave credit for class attendance and minimal passing grades, and to replace it with a competency-based system that gives credit for the mastering of academic skills. New Hampshire did this, for all schools, in 2005. Students in Carter’s school hone these skills through actual work in local businesses. At the end of the internships, they write short papers on how the internship connects with their work in school.

Carter said the community in Keene and nearby towns has been instrumental in helping find internships and in working with MC2-Monadnock to make sure the schoolwork and the outside work complement each other.

“Internships engage students in real-world learning through one-on-one relationships with an adult mentor,” said Carter. “Our job is to connect that work into the skills and knowledge that they have to have.”

This is Part 1 of a two-part series. Next week, a look at another MC2 school in Manchester, N.H., where good internships have been harder to come by.

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