Hi, my name is Casey Dinga and I am currently an elementary education and sociology double major in the graduating class of 2021.
I was first introduced to the idea of taking an internship when I had 2 education class conflicts with my sociology senior seminar. There were no alternatives to either of the classes that were required for me to graduate. My only options were to find an internship or to work as a TA for a research project on campus. I immediately knew I wanted to do an internship in an area where I could get hands on experience. As an education major I’ve always wanted to get hands on experience with something in special education. Justin Schupp, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Sara Donaldson, my education advisor were able to help me get in contact with North Attleboro Enterprises Inc. AEI is a non- profit organization that strives to support adults with cognitive and physical challenges by promoting opportunities for them to become contributing members of society and to achieve their life goals. I accepted an internship in their pre-ETS program which provides pre-vocational classroom training and real work experience to high school age students. It aims to prepare these students for successful community employment after school.
Working with AEI I was able to connect both my elementary education and sociology majors. While I had hands-on experience with the special education high schoolers virtually, I was also able to incorporate my senior seminar research question into a four week Disability Disclosure class. I was interested in researching how having an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and 504 Accommodation Plan affects your self advocacy skills and readiness for post secondary education. IEPs and 504 accommodation plans are used for students that have any type of physical or learning disability. They are documents that are implemented into the education setting to make sure all students are successful. During the four week class, I administered a pre/post survey. The pre-survey was administered before the first class to gauge the student’s prior knowledge and see which areas we should focus on. The post- survey was administered after the last class to gauge how the curriculum we prepared improved the student knowledge on self advocacy and developing/implementing a transition plan. After compiling all the data from my pre/post survey we found an overwhelming amount of improvements in confidence with self advocacy and transitioning to post secondary education as well as a boost in confidence in disclosing a disability.
After working with AEI this past fall, I was able to get a paid internship through Wheaton for our Winter break. During this period, I was able to meet with the CEO of AEI, as well as the funding and marketing department to present the data from my pre/post survey. This presentation not only went very well but we were able to get the pre-ETS program more funding to access a variety of resources for our students. After my presentation with the CEO, I started working on more data analysis and monthly data work such as student data reports, direct referrals and initiating new students into our online gateway. After completing my internship in the fall and extending it through the winter break, AEI offered me a part time job as an administrative assistant to do the different types of duties and tasks I completed over my fall and winter internship experiences.
This experience has not only shaped me as an educator but it has opened my eyes to so many different opportunities out in the real world today. Without the help of Justin Schupp, Sara Donaldson, Nichole Gary and Ryan Saglio I would not have had the opportunities I’ve had this past year. I am immensely grateful for this experience and I can’t wait to incorporate everything I learned into my own diverse classroom one day.