It doesn’t matter if a child at the Masonic Children’s Home is in the transition process of their first week at the children’s home or their first week in college; Donna Shaffer, educational coordinator, is eager to tackle each educational step along the way.
Donna knows each child’s educational journey is important to their success at the children’s home and beyond. Her role is to help the children succeed in school in order to pursue a post-secondary degree or certificate either in college, technical or trade school upon graduation.
“Once the students reach eighth grade, I meet with them to administer a career assessment. When they complete this questionnaire, I help identify their strengths, interests and what possible careers they might consider. I ask them to list their occupational dreams so, we have backup options if their first plan changes along the way,” Donna said. “We then put together a four-year course plan based on their interests, strengths and goals.”
Throughout middle school and high school, Donna observes each child and takes notes on their study habits, time management and work ethic, plus their attitudes toward subjects and maintaining good grades. These notes also assist in helping the child to figure out a career choice to pursue after graduation.
While in high school, the children are encouraged to follow their passions and talents and get involved with sports and school activities. By their junior year, Donna said they usually have a good idea of their career goals and next steps, including finding that post-secondary school that best fits them.
Donna’s work doesn’t stop when a child graduates from high school and moves out of the children’s home. Part of her role is supporting the child throughout college or the alternative path they have chosen.
“I’m as involved as I can be. In college, we’re very connected from bills to advice to academics,” Donna said. Her goal is to “service their needs” and ensure each child is comfortable and confident in their pursuits beyond the children’s home.
Donna also provides emotional support for the children adjusting to new lives after the children’s home, and likes being “always in touch.”
“I’m available almost 24/7 … I’m like a parent, and parents don’t just go on vacation when an urgent need arises. I am only a phone call or text away,” Donna said.
She added that the older kids “stick together” and “seek each other out for advice.” She said they enjoy connecting on social media and their house parents remain available at various levels after they leave.
“It takes the entire children’s home village to support them throughout these years,” Donna said. “We’re like a family, so it can be hard to break away.”
In addition to the support and care each child receives from the children’s home staff, Donna said it’s important they learn to develop the skills needed to become self-reliant.
“Our students learn the importance of self-discipline and the determination to succeed as they mature and want more freedoms to choose when and where to study around their busy schedules. They become independent learners and know when to ask a tutor for help,” Donna said. “Before they leave, we try to provide them with most needed items, but they are responsible for their transportation, phone and personal items.”
Fortunately, the graduates’ college tuition, room and board plus textbooks are paid for, thanks to the generosity of donors. The Masonic Homes-Patton School Alumni Scholarships assist with the purchase of a computer and other educational needs.
Regardless of the path each child chooses to follow, Donna said it’s rewarding when they are “inspired and happy with what they have pursued.” Some continue on for more training or a master’s level degree.
What’s most gratifying for Donna is to “see the children grow through their entire schooling” and come back as successful alumni.
“Seeing them as adults and how far they have come in spite of many obstacles and challenges simply gives me chills,” Donna said. “Whatever they were taught through our program, they are passing on to their kids. It’s great to see their kids coming back with them to visit where their parents lived. That’s the reward of this position.”