NEW CANAAN — Sarah Edwards is living her dream. A drag racer from Stamford, Edwards drives “The Queen of Diamonds” jet dragster that inspired her very love of racing when she was 12 years old.

“It’s cool to see where having a dream can take you,” she told seniors at New Canaan High School on June 7. “Now I’m living my dream.”

Edwards wasn’t speaking to the whole senior class, though, instead addressing only a small group who remained in classes in the last month of the school year.

While 269 members of the New Canaan High School senior class chose to participate in the senior internship program that takes place the last month before graduation, about 80 students opted to stay behind. Some wanted to focus on academics, others have jobs they felt give them similar life experience to that gained in an internship.

The internship program is optional and for those who decide not to do it, the school makes an effort to teach the remaining students about different options for their post-high school life during their last month of school.

“For the students left, we wanted to give them a slice of different directions,” said Heather Bianco, the senior internship coordinator.

In addition to Edwards, students have heard from a personal trainer, a real estate agent, a restaurateur and an entrepreneur — all showing the students alternative fields they might pursue. The speakers were people in fields not represented at the high school’s career night from back in March.

The students staying behind also received other professional training, such as assemblies on career exploration, lessons on dressing for work and a session how to open a LinkedIn account.

“We’re trying to tell kids ‘Follow your passion,’” Bianco, who joined the staff in January, said.

“My biggest thing is you should go after your dreams,” added Edwards, who has an associate’s degree in interior design from Norwalk Community College, which she does in addition to racing. “If that means a four-year school, do it. If it means trade school, do it.”

Senior Michael Nikolla is one who plans to pursue the latter.

The 18-year-old is going to a one-year program at the Porter and Chester Institute in Stratford to study automotives. On the weekends, he works at a mechanic in downtown Stamford, giving him more experience than an internship could garner him. As he has been enjoying his NCHS classes, such as woodwork, per-calculus and poetry, Nikolla decided to stay in school.

“I felt like I’d stay and focus on school,” he said. “I was more inclined to stay for more (classes).”

Seniors who sign up to do the program are only eligible if they have a minimum grade of 65 in their classes. Their grades are frozen at the time they start the internship and they don’t have to take finals.

However, not all of the details were clear to senior James Shapiro, who opted out of the program.

“I didn’t realize a lot of the requirements were broad-scale,” the 19-year-old said.

According to Bianco, there’s a yearlong communication process informing seniors about the program, with details sent out to all seniors starting in October.

Still, the Roger Williams University-bound senior said he wasn’t motivated to pursue an internship, even beyond not knowing the requirements.

“I didn’t think I had a reason,” he said. “I didn’t realize all the benefits.”

Still, the students who chose to remain at New Canaan High School for the final weeks of the school year said they have benefited from the programs the school provided instead of the internships they could be doing. The programs, which included practical life advice like how to find an apartment, have prepared them for the professional world and what lies beyond high school.

“A lot of these activities, although abrupt, have been extremely useful,” Shapiro said. “I get a lot of intel, like, this is what’s going to happen.”

“Since I’m in a one-year program, I’m more rushed,” added Nikolla. “With LinkedIn and networking, that’s where I’ll gain my knowledge.”

ekayata@hearstmediact.com; @erin_kayata