Scarborough fund aims to grow student career connections

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SCARBOROUGH — The School Department is aiming to expand its support of career exploration and experiential learning for students through a new designated fund.

In partnership with the Scarborough Education Foundation, the Scarborough Economic Development Corp. and the Scarborough Community Chamber of Commerce, the district has launched a Career Pathways Fund to support programs that will strengthen and expand on the high school’s internship programs.

The target for the fund is $75,000 by next June.

Foundation President Bryan Shumway said the fund “represents the largest effort ever to support innovation in Scarborough Public Schools.”

“(It’s) the first direct fundraising effort ever that harnesses the generosity and focus of Scarborough families and leading companies from the Greater Portland area,” Shumway said. “Never before (has SEF) had the opportunity to support an effort with such student-centered and community-centered outcomes.”

The high school’s internship program, which pairs students with mentors from businesses including Scarborough Terrace, MEND Health & Wellness of Maine, Portland Radio Group, Maine Medical Center, and Lucky Clover Stables, is in its second semester. 

Christy Zavasnik, who is also a Spanish teacher at the high school, is the program coordinator. She teaches a seminar class which complements student internships to provide them with additional core skills needed in the workplace, such as professional communication, email etiquette, resume development, and interview skills. 

“Having a connection back to the classroom gives students a chance to reflect on their experience in the workplace,” Zavasnik said. 

For the past two years, Zavasnik said high school staff have tried to get additional funding for expanded programming, and perhaps to hire a specialist, but other needs have taken priority. 

“Right now, the program is budget-neutral … (But) my plate is overflowing,” Zavasnik said. “Our Spanish teachers have taken on larger class sizes, sharing the load to make the program possible.” 

With the success of the internship program, which served 13 students last semester and maxed out at 15 this semester, Zavasnik “sees the need for growing it.”

That, she hopes, will be possible through the Career Pathways Fund until the district is able to secure funding.

“I sit on a committee of (full-time) career pathways specialists from schools around Southern Maine,” Zavasnik said. ”  … This is work that Scarborough is seeing as valuable, (but) we need to meet the need in an innovative way.”

For starters, Zavasnik is piloting a new career talk program where two or more speakers will give panel discussions on particular topics or career sectors. The first will be held Nov. 9 in the school’s learning commons and will focus on journalism, sports writing, marketing, and communications. 

Zavasnik said 40-50 students are expected to attend.

Further, she envisions the district offering a job shadow bank for students who want to explore career options without committing to a semester-long internship.

“We want to bring students face-to-face with different professions,” Zavasnik said. “But that kind of programming takes time if you don’t have someone dedicated to facilitating that … We want it to be sustainable.”

Matthew Boulerice, a 2012 SHS graduate, owns New England Realty Group and was the first corporate donor. Boulerice said he will continue to support the fund with a recurring donation.

“Traditional education doesn’t always connect with students who may be interested in the trades or have an entrepreneurial mindset,” said Boulerice, who was in Zavasnik’s Spanish class. “The idea of connecting these students to individuals that they connect with and who can motivate them really excites me.”

“Matthew is so committed to supporting our school,” Zavasnik said. “He’s always advocated for more programming and has been a strong proponent of mentoring programs.”

Zavasnik said the Career Pathways Fund is a great way for businesses or individuals to support the district’s efforts by making a “targeted donation.”

Those who’d like to learn more or donate can do so online at www.sefmaine.org/careerpathways.

The initiative, Shumway said, has three potential outcomes: it can reinforce a student’s excitement regarding a particular course of study and career objective; redirect a student away from an area of inquiry that may not suit their strengths or interests before tuition or time is spent; or it can provide important experiences to give students the confidence to explore and try to achieve “stretch goals” after high school.

“These outcomes cannot be achieved within the confines of a classroom but are critical elements of the foundation of success for our students,” Shumway said.

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

Steve Schneider, left, Portland Radio Group creative services director, mentors 2018 Scarborough High School graduate Nick Anderson in sound production and recording at the station in South Portland.

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