was pursuing a Bachelor's degree in Neuroscience at
when she took an internship at
Ivy Street School
, assisting a classroom with tasks such as curriculum development, grading, and behavior management.
Originally intending to use her Neuroscience degree in a lab setting, Shawna fell in love with Ivy Street School, and after graduating in 2013 took a position here as a
Vocational Counselor. In that role, she provided job coaching for students both in the building and out in the community. Shawna's drive and passion for helping students succeed resulted in her being named
Vocational Coordinator a year later.
Since arriving, Shawna has worked to bring about great advancements in the
. Now, more students than ever are competitively employed in the community, holding positions that they can retain even after leaving the school (
formerly, most student positions were temporary internships)
, as well as developing the skills necessary to continue to succeed in the workforce.
"Our students are more successful than ever before," Shawna says.
Shawna attributes the Vocational Program's current success to a shift to a more
student-driven model. Students are given the agency to seek out and apply for positions on their own, using the help of staff as needed for any phase of the job search process. A Vocational Program staff member also accompanies them to interviews, providing assistance or advocacy as necessary.
Once hired, the student may be assisted by a
, or they may work independently. Currently two-thirds of the students employed do so independently, including managing their own transportation and schedule as well as self-advocating for needs or accommodations.
|A student learning real-world vocational skills
in the Panera Cares program
Shawna works to ensure that students find employment that not only allows them to develop their skills, but matches their interests. One student loves working with animals, so Shawna and the Vocational Program helped her secure a position at
, a doggie daycare. Another student has shone in Ivy Street's
, which, combined with his experience working at
, allowed him to acquire a position at
"It's all about their interests," says Shawna. "Finding what motivates them and running with it."
student-run businesses such as Nice Notes, Coffee Shop, and the soon-to-be-launched afternoon Coffee Shop allow students to develop vocational skills in the school setting to prepare themselves for community employment.
As the Vocational Coordinator, Shawna is also a member of the
, in which
staff work together to help students prepare for a smooth
to adult services or independent living. This includes running a weekly transition group for older students, in which they explore the community for resources they can use after transition and create processes for reaching their individual goals.
What Shawna loves most about working at Ivy Street School?
"The flexibility, the creativity," she says. "We have an extremely strong and talented team and we work well together.
"The best part, though," she adds, "is seeing the genuine smiles on student's faces when they succeed."