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The Road to Discovery
It seemed like a perfect opportunity: a work-based internship at a highly regarded children's museum. Chosen students would perform administrative tasks, prepare supplies for crafts projects and, most importantly, help children and families visiting the museum make their way through a variety of exciting exhibits.
The opportunity at Port Discovery near Baltimore's Inner Harbor came saturated with sensory stimulation noise and color that easily could distract even the most prepared teen-ager. It was a special challenge for 19-year-old Seth Jackson, a junior at Kennedy Krieger High School Career & Technology Center who has pervasive developmental disorder (PDD) and cognitive impairments stemming from a brain injury suffered in early childhood.
Seth began volunteering last September, after Sheila Bouloubassis, the school's coordinator of work-based learning, hand-picked him for the opportunity. "Seth understands the importance of remaining professional despite the constant stimulation and excitement in the museum," says Ms. Bouloubassis.
He works at the museum twice a week, including Thursdays the most popular day for students visiting as part of school field trips. On a single Thursday, as many as 400 young visitors fill the museum.
"It's a big help to have Seth around to settle the groups in on Thursdays," says Travis Leivo, a Port Discovery program associate. "While I'm cleaning up from one group, Seth can chat with the next group and tell them what they need to do. He's a great customer service representative, and he inspires the other volunteers to work harder to be a part of the team."
Seth often oversees the museum's "Adventure Expedition" room, answering questions and helping children draw their names in hieroglyphics in the Egyptian-themed exhibit. On other days, he compiles mailings, prepares craft materials and uses the computer skills he's learned in the high school's information technology career classes to help children manipulate photos or create rhythmic beats. When Seth first began his internship, Ms. Bouloubassis supervised him every day. Now she lets Seth handle his assignment on his own.
The enthusiasm that Seth brings to his responsibilities at Port Discovery makes him an asset in the classroom, too, says his homeroom teacher Elizabeth Turek. "Because of Seth's disabilities, he takes a little longer to process information, but he has an incredible desire to learn," says Ms. Turek. "Seth has grown immensely in terms of volunteering to help, and asking for help himself when he doesn't understand something. He also dreams big, which will serve him well in the future."
Characteristics like that are the qualities of good leaders and responsible adults qualities that the school is helping Seth hone as he prepares for graduation next year. Seth meets with mental health case manager Maryann Boyle twice a week. "Seth's made a great deal of progress in his understanding of the tasks involved in relating to others," says Ms. Boyle. "And he's made strides in understanding how his responsibilities will change as he moves from his student years to adulthood." To learn more about Kennedy Krieger's High School Career & Technology Center, call 443-923-7800.