Earlier this school year, Calaveras High School senior Jared Bisbikis searched for an internship that matched his interests — politics, communication, and helping others — but also wanted something that set him apart from other college applicants.
“I was kind of on this roll,” said Bisbikis, 18, a four-year class president. “But I needed something else.”
He had already participated in a campus voter registration drive, which registered over 200 people before the November midterms. He was fascinated by a career in diplomacy, preferably in a country where he could speak French.
When Career Technician Terri Tanner at Calaveras High School announced volunteer intern positions at the county, the Clerk-Recorder Office — which administers local elections, county records and archival material — immediately stuck out to him.
“I really liked the whole election process and everything. I end up doing a lot more than that,” Bisbikis said.
Bisbikis prepared mail outs (returning deeds and trusts to members of the public), rolled stamps onto letters, indexed historical documents to an online database, organized voter registration cards dating back to the 1960s, reviewed microfilm and manned the front desk.
He was most surprised by the normalcy of his position, especially after an election season, but noted the experience still held some surprises.
“I learned a lot about how to communicate with the general public. They really worked with me to know by the time I left I could do all those tasks,” Bisbikis said. “In one time or another we all might end up in an office setting.”
Tanner said the intention of the program, which is organized through the Calaveras County Office of Education, was a part of an ongoing effort to give students professional experience before they enter the workforce.
“I think it's a great opportunity to get their feet wet in an area they are interested in. I think it just gives them real world experience. They can gain more exposure into areas they are interested in pursuing in the future,” Tanner said.
Tanner said the program was offered to upperclassmen who had a reduced schedule on campus. The positions were unpaid, but offered volunteer hours where the students could receive recognition at senior award night and graduation.
“We’re so isolated up here, any opportunity a student can get for enrichment, those are all great things for them,” Tanner said.
Tanner said the school also hoped to offer class credit to students in the internship program during later years.
“The door is always open, we are always looking for new educational opportunities for our students,” Tanner said.
One Calaveras High School senior, Syerra Smyth, said her three-month stint in the Calaveras County District Attorney’s Office Victim Witness Program was more than just educational — it was life-changing.
“I think a lot of time in high school it's about history and English and just passing the class,” said Smyth, 17. “When I first started at Victim Witness, they said I was going to see a lot of rough things while going to court and in rough paperwork. They always said to talk about it and not keep it in.”
Smyth said she was most impacted by a sexual harassment trial which involved in minor girl. Smyth sat in the courtroom beside the professional victim witnesses while the girl spoke in front of the jury and after her mother left the room.
“It taught me you have to treat everyone with kindness, because you don't know everyone’s story,” Smyth said. “You have to be nice. It taught me to care for everyone and be the strong shoulder they need.”
Other students enrolled in the internship program included Jacob Young in the Calaveras County District Attorney’s Office, Andrew Hutt, in Calaveras County Public Works, and Baljit Singh, in a local county library.
Smyth and Bisbikis interned in their positions for a few hours a day, two to three times a week over three months. They both described the experiences as formative on their career plans.
Smyth plans to attend Delta College in Stockton and study either psychology or criminal justice at Arizona State University. After her victim witness experience, Smyth said she hopes to work in the judicial system.
Bisbikis has his sights set internationally, but said he was moved by the experience of his supervisor, Calaveras County Clerk-Recorder Rebecca Turner, who was the last person to hold the student-intern position in the office.
“I liked Rebecca a lot. She was very flexible and very helpful. She wanted to know what I wanted to gain. She really made sure that she had checked everything off the list I wanted to learn,” Bisbikis said.
Turner started in the office during her senior year (she graduated in 2004) and never left. Starting as an office technician, she soon filled the role of elections supervisor and elections coordinator. After longtime clerk-recorder Karen Varni announced her retirement, Turner ran for the position in 2014 and won. She ran unopposed and was re-elected in 2018.
“I think it's a total culture shock to go from high school to a work environment like county government. It was different to work in an office with essentially people I didn’t consider my peers,” Turner said. “I don't think it was as daunting for him, for me it was somewhat daunting.”
Early on, it was clear their experiences wouldn’t exactly align. His participation was all voluntary, while Turner’s intern tenure 15 years ago was paid 8.50 an hour, she said.
“I think he learned a lot here because there’s things you don't know how to do. But it's hard to compare,” she said.
Bisbikis has committed to the University of San Francisco, where he declared a major in international studies with a French and Middle East focus.
He said he plans to employ his internship techniques during the 2020 election, continuing to represent voter advocacy even when he is out of the county and in college.
“I feel like overall it was a really good opportunity and experience where I gained a lot from communication. I’m happy I’m not going to have to go to college and learn those things all over again because I always have this experience under my belt a little bit,” Bisbikis said.