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Is a Communications Internship Program Right for Your District?

Quote Card
“Win/Win is number four, and number five is win/win/win. The important difference here is with win/win/win, we all win. Me too” – Michael Gary Scott, Regional Manager of the fictional Dunder Mifflin.

In this awkward episode (even for ‘The Office’ standard), Michael Scott is using ‘win-win-win’ to successfully solve a challenge. 

We are always thinking of how decisions impact our communities, students, district office, superintendent, and other key stakeholders, but rarely stop to think about what could also benefit us as communicators — like a communications internship program.

We strive for win-win for our students and our district (which should always be a priority). A communications internship program is that ‘win-win-win’ situation we all might need.

 What is a Communications Internship Program?

A communications internship program may have different guidelines and experiences from district to district, but the general plan should be the same:

    1. Create a program that provides real-world learning experiences for students to leverage toward post-high school opportunities (Win for Students)
    2. Instill authentic student and community voices into district communications. (Win for District)
    3. Demonstrate to your superintendent how an increased communication capacity can see a return on investment. (Win for You).

Daniel Thigpen – former CalSPRA President and PRSA California Capital Chapter President – managed a communications internship program while leading communications and engagement for a school district in Northern California. Dan immediately recognized the benefits (and difficulties) of building a program.

“I came into that role as a one-person shop but also inherited an established high school internship program. While it was a lot of work to manage, the students were crucial to our day-to-day storytelling efforts and keeping us connected to our central mission: student achievement,” said Daniel. “Over time, we were able to leverage results from excellent student work to build a case for a larger communication operation with full-time staff, while keeping elements of the internship program in place for the long term.”

 First Things First: When to Start a Program

If you’re reading this, it’s possible you already know you want to begin a program. But how do you know when it’s the right time?

“It’s easy to always feel like your plate is overloaded when working in School PR,” says Daniel. “It could be enticing to create an internship program for students to alleviate some of those day-to-day tasks, but that shouldn’t be the sole reason you begin a program.”

 “Students crave coaching and guidance just as much as they were capable of working independently. We wanted to make sure they were learning new skills and the district was getting value from their participation.”

 A good brainstorming session could be great for identifying the timing for creating a good program.

  • How many hours would you need to start the program?
  • How many hours per week would you need to manage the program and its interns against the hours of work saved?
  • What projects are on the horizon that need attention?

Most importantly, think about the goals for the program and how all three parties can win-win-win.

Your Plan for Communication Interns

Next, is getting leadership on board, and the best way to do that is to come ready to present a plan. 

Everyone loves a Strategic Communications plan, but even a plan that covers the classic ‘Five W’s and a H’ is a good start.

  1. Who will your interns be?
  2. What is the goal of the program?
  3. Where will the interns work?
  4. When will the program start and end?
  5. Why will students want to intern for the program?
  6. How will this program operate? How many hours a week will interns be available?
  7. Who will supervise their work and what approval processes or policies need to be in place?

“Don’t forget that the recruitment, application and interview process is as critical a learning experience for the students as the actual internship,” Daniel said. “Even if students aren’t selected for the program, they’re already several steps ahead of their peers, gaining real-world experience vying for a job. Build a structure around this idea so they get the most out of it.”

 Roles for Interns

Communications Internship Program interns can hold various roles, from drafting social media content to designing graphics for school events. You can decide to bring on interns for specific roles to capitalize on a student’s skill set or decide to let interns also learn new skills in the program. Whichever route you choose, make sure interns are qualified and confident in their roles.

 Roles include:

 Jot down a list of roles your department could use and how an intern can handle the responsibilities. If you want to take more time to consider possibilities, check out our friend Andrea’s podcast at

Evaluation: Track Key Metrics

 Establishing key metrics before the program begins allows you to show the program’s value to your superintendent and gather data for later (when you see opportunities to grow your department).

“Showing how the Communications Internship Program is affecting change may be more important than what it is doing to make change,” says Daniel. “Especially if one of your goals is to prove that expanded resources to communication will show a return in ways that advance the district’s strategic interests.”

 There are plenty of reasons to start (and probably quite a few reasons not to start) a Communications Internship Program in your district. While blogs and tip sheets will help you brainstorm, raise important questions, and provide a guide, each district presents its own unique challenges and needs.

 So, in the wise words of Michael Scott, ask yourself, “Is this a win-win-win situation?” You may have your answer.

 Quick Tips:

 Start Small and Expand

It’s easy to plan (and dream) big for a plan like this. But it’s important to remember you also must manage this program, which is more work.  Start with a few interns. Set very manageable goals and tasks to begin until you build more capacity. Learn how to best evaluate the program.

 Recognize, Recognize, Recognize

 This is where all that good storytelling you’ve done pays off. Interns work hard and provide a great service for the district, but they’re also students who deserve the praise they earn! Make sure to continually highlight their work, their success, choices after the program, and continue to highlight how internship programs are foundational for the district.

 Build a Policy and Approval Plan 

  1. Will students sign an employee handbook or ethics guide on thoughtful communications? Will one need to be created for the internship program or does the district have a version that can be used?
  2. Establish a social media style guide for all users to follow. 
  3. Create an approval plan for interns to use social media and other district communication channels. Will students have access to public channels and how will they post content?  

Published on: September 7, 2022