Maureen Lavorgna has been at Haddam-Killingworth High School in Regional School District #17 since 1993. She currently serves as Department Head for Special Education and Transition Coordinator. Below is a transcript of our interview with her.
The high school houses about 700 students. And as Transition Coordinator, I was asked to start a program in 2010 by my director. So I met with my department. We were trying to figure out how we could start this program without additional staff. My department was tremendously supportive in taking on a number of… students from my case load so that I could begin the Transition Program and give it my full attention. So without my department support and administrative support, this program would not be running today…. We are now in our fifth year.
I work with students, starting usually with seniors. I interview them one-on-one. I work with their case managers, their parents, [and] their guidance counselors. We try to figure out, what is their area of interest, what do they think they would like to do when they exit high school? And from there, we find out, would you like to do a job shadow, a one-time job shadow, or perhaps a full-blown internship? If the student’s interested, and all the other parties are on board, we begin with a job shadow. I go with the student on a job shadow to a place of interest, and afterwards I contact everybody again. If the student’s interested in an internship, then I contact the place of business [and] ask if they would like to take on a student.
My internships are all unpaid internships. The students do them during the school day, for the most part, and they earn high school credit while they are out in their internships. If an internship is a go, I again contact the case manager, the parents—the student of course is on board, [and the] administration. And then we start to work with transportation: How we’re going to get the student there. Sometimes we use our district transportation, our school buses and vans…. We have several students that have accessed 9Town Transit, and I am lucky enough to have some students that have a driver’s license and can drive themselves. And then begins the process of all the permission slips that are necessary to make everything happen. I contact Central Office here at the school, to make sure they can be covered under school’s insurance during school hours.
Businesses always want to hear that, that they are in fact covered under our insurance during school hours. So I’ve become, I guess, a liaison between the school and the community. I have at this point about 75 to 80 community connections that I work with. I think the reason there are so many is I deal with each student and their individual interest. Just this year alone, I’ve worked with four students that had interest in areas I did not have connections in. And the way I make those connections is just [to] pick up the phone and call a place of business. I explain what we’re doing, what my student might be interested in. I have learned the business world is very different from the education world, so I need to keep my conversation short and to the point.
And I have great relationships with people in the community. At this point in time, five years out, I have business members calling me, asking me, “Could l have another intern this year? That one last year worked out just great.” So it’s nice to have them contacting me at this point. I hope to keep the program going; every year it gets better and better. I currently have just shy of 30 students out on internships.
One of the greatest benefits to my students is increased self-esteem, increased independence. When they get out on these internships, the students are all of a sudden required just to take a couple of courses in the morning, and then they’re out in the afternoon in an actual workplace. Students who may have been getting maybe some D’s and F’s in their courses, all of a sudden we see their grades come up. We see their confidence come up, and on occasion we have had students actually get hired in these places because they do such a good job…. We’re placing them in an area where they have an interest, so they do pretty well.
Molly is one of my interns. Molly has an internship with a state trooper. She signs out at the high school main office every day. The trooper’s office is actually in a building connected to the high school, so Molly walks to her internship; she walks down there every day. She is also taking a Criminal Justice class here at the high school that dovetails with what she’s doing with the trooper. Being a state trooper, he’s not available all the time. Sometimes he gets called out on a road call, on an accident, whatever; that’s the case today. And we always have a Plan B for Molly; we have a Plan B for most of our interns, but especially for Molly. And because she’s taking the Criminal Justice class, she will head up to our Media Center, work on homework for her Criminal Justice class, and the state trooper has also given her a book and some activities to do that are related to her internship on the days when he cannot be here.
Alex is one of my interns who travels on 9Town Transit from the high school to Middlesex Hospital. He goes one day a week at this internship. He’s been there for three years. And on the other days, Alex is participating in a different internship, so he is actually on an internship five days a week. But today we’re going to see him at Middlesex Hospital. He gets off his 9Town Transit van, and happily enters the hospital. He goes with his job coach, who is with him at all times, but Alex goes independently to get his volunteer jacket. He then goes into the volunteer offices and signs in on their computer without the help of his job coach. He then goes/works his way downstairs to the laundry area, where he is greeted by his co-workers, as he likes to think of them, and he gets right to work. The job coach is there to guide him, but as always with job coaches, we hope to fade that with time and foster the independence that we see in Alex. Alex is very interested in machines and how they work, particularly washing machines and dishwashers, and that is why we chose this particular internship. And this being his third year here, we decided to explore additional opportunities for him, which is why he’s here one day a week, and he’s at an alternate internship on the other days. He also has lunch at this internship site, so he gets to practice having lunch on the job site.
"I’ve enjoyed every aspect of special education during my career, but this is by far the best job." This is the best job I have ever had. I’ve enjoyed every aspect of special education during my career, but this is by far the best job. I get to watch kids grow and develop in ways that you just don’t see when they’re in a regular classroom all day long. Of course, they need that regular classroom experience, but when we can get them out there in the community, in an area that they’re interested in, we see a whole other side of kids. We see them grow and develop and mature, and develop confidence.
The program, however, would not be possible without the support of the administration of this district, the case managers in my department. the parents especially, [and] the students. The parents are an integral part of this because they need to buy into it, they need to understand it. And particularly the community members.…. The businesses have been fabulous about taking on our interns and working with me and working with them.
I would love to be able to help anyone else develop a program, or if you just want to figure out how to develop a particular job site.