Making Community Connections

Sixteen local students are participating in capstone internships as the result of the New Castle Community School Corporation’s Next Gen School Improvement Grant.

Those internships were the focus of a Tuesday “Community Connections” luncheon at the East Central Education Service Center (ECESC), formerly known as Sunnyside Elementary School.

The four-year, $4.3 million dollar grant was awarded in June 2022. Grant money will be used to transform New Castle Middle School and New Castle High School to help lead economic development in New Castle and the surrounding region. The grant also allowed New Castle schools to hire nine full-time staff members to support student career exploration.

According to New Castle Community School Corporation Superintendent Dr. Matthew Shoemaker, some objectives of the grant are to improve student academic performance, develop graduation pathways, expand career education and exploration and to foster relationships with local business and community partners.

Community partnerships

While 16 students are currently participating in internships, the program has the capacity to host between 30 and 35 interns each semester.

“All of this work is done in addition to and in collaboration with the (New Castle) Career Center so it is not competitive with them, but rather complimentary,” Shoemaker explained.

Local businesses and organizations attending Tuesday’s lunch were encouraged to help “strengthen the workforce pipeline by supporting student employability skills and career awareness.”

Katie Smith, New Castle’s secondary attendance liaison, explained how area businesses can help students explore, engage and experience various career aspects. For instance, businesses can help students explore by hosting in-person or virtual field trips, participating in career/job fairs or taking part in panel discussions with other industry leaders.

Additionally, students can engage with businesses by job shadowing an employee for a defined period of time or participating in a mock interview. Experiences can be obtained through internships, pre-apprenticeships and summer learning experiences.

“One of the most important skills we believe students must master prior to entering the workforce is punctuality and consistent attendance,” Smith said.

Smith reported that during the first semester at New Castle Middle School, the daily attendance rate has increased by 13 percent when compared to the first semester of the last school year. Attendance at New Castle High School has increased by 8 percent for the same time period.

Smith works alongside career coaches, administrators, instructional coaches, counselors and teachers who support students and hold them accountable while recognizing their excellence and growth.

“Every conversation we have with a student is focused on their future after they leave New Castle schools,” Smith said.

Internships and employability skills

Employability skills identified by the Indiana Department of Workforce Development include lifelong learning and self-confidence mindsets, work ethics that focus on self-discipline, independence and perseverance, attention to detail, good decision-making skills, effective communication, time management and organization, adaptability, integrity, professionalism, problem solving abilities, aptitude and awareness, regulating and managing emotions and collaboration.

Patrick Burris is a career coach at New Castle High School. He spoke at Tuesday’s lunch of building new opportunities with students through innovative community partnerships.

“I would like to take the time to emphasize how much New Castle schools have grown and evolved in the last 15 years,” Burris said. “Now we have students leaving with one-year degrees, two-year degrees, we have 20 dual-credit options, eight AP (Advanced Placement) classes, different career pathways, we have the Career Center…and now we have this internship opportunity and work-based learning.

“Students at New Castle have more choices today than they ever have,” he continued. “New Castle is truly at the forefront and the leading edge in changing the way education is done in Indiana.”

According to Burris, while education encompasses classroom and academic aspects, the future of education will emphasize employability skills, work-based learning opportunities, hands-on learning experiences, tailored career pathways and more.

Burris highlighted each of the 16 students who were currently participating in internships at companies such Henry Community Health, Duty Calls Plumbing, Triple J Plumbing, The Waters, ERA Integrity Real Estate, the Guyer Opera House, Henry County Removes Invasive Plant Species, the Henry County Solid Waste Management District, Ivy Tech, Ball State University and more.

Burris said some interns will work at multiple locations during the semester.

“Sometimes at this age, it’s just as important for students to realize what they don’t want to do for the rest of their lives as opposed to what they do want to do for the rest of their lives,” he said. “The more exposure we can give, that’s a real positive.”

Student interns work a minimum of five hours per week. Some internships are paid positions while others offer work-based experience.

New Castle High School senior Devyn Ayres has an internship at Ball State University in the marketing department. After graduation, Ayres plans to attend Ball State and major in marketing.

“Devyn really has a perfect match,” Burris said. “She’s already working with her professors ahead of time. She’s getting industry certifications early. That’s another point that I’d like to make. In some of these jobs, we love to be able to build in credentials or certifications.”

According to the American School Counselor Association, the state average ratio of student to school counselors in Indiana is 694:1. With the 11 full-time school counselors in New Castle, the ratio of students to school counselors is 250:1.

“Through these work-based experiences, you can help us and we can help you,” Burris told the audience. “We can all help students and mold and develop them and hopefully create a future pipeline for Henry County.”

New Castle senior Braylon McRoberts also spoke during Tuesday’s lunch. McRoberts is a New Castle High School ambassador and class historian who helps manage social media accounts. His internship is through the high school’s counseling department. He plans to attend Indiana University Bloomington and study finance before going to dental school. McRoberts also participates in the Career Center’s dental program.

“It’s been a great opportunity,” McRoberts said of his internship. “I’ve learned work skills, speaking skills. It’s been very beneficial to me.”

McRoberts encouraged members of the business community present to consider opening a student intern position.

“The hands-on experience is a great learning opportunity for us kids, and we are blessed to have that,” he said.

Businesses or community organizations interested in making a community connection with New Castle students should contact New Castle Community School Corporation Liaison Amy Madden by emailing

East Central Education Service Center

Tuesday’s lunch was the first major event hosted at the East Central Education Service Center.

ECESC Executive Director Patrick Haney said Henry County is part of Region 4, which serves 14 counties, 42 member districts and more than 70,000 students and 4,500 educators.

The ECESC building on South 14th Street in New Castle contains offices, an event center in the former gym, a center for professional development in the former library and six designated RIASEC classrooms.

“RIASEC” is a framework that represents six themes that connect a person and a person’s interests, strengths and values, to potential career pathways. Classroom themes are realistic careers, investigative careers, artistic careers, social careers, enterprising careers and conventional careers.

For more information about ECESC, visit