When parent Maristela Monteiro saw a flyer about Ivymount School needing businesses to host students for work experience, she thought, “Why not my workplace?” That was the beginning of a project that has turned into a nine-year partnership between Ivymount School and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).
The Post High School recently celebrated Monteiro with a retirement party to honor her career in alcohol research and public health policy and especially her work on making PAHO a key jobsite for Ivymount. Monteiro, who is an Ivymount board member and parent of a former Ivymount School student, recognizes the barriers that persons with disabilities face in finding and maintaining employment: according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an adult with a disability is twice as likely to be unemployed as a person without a disability. Working at an organization focused on public health and human rights, she saw an opportunity to embody PAHO’s mission by advancing inclusion. “I think the Ivymount students bring a new perspective on the need for tolerance and flexibility – that everybody has a talent and that we should value and build on what they can do,” says Monteiro.
Students Learn Valuable Skills
Since Monteiro first asked how PAHO could get involved, 21 Ivymount students have earned valuable real-world work experience at the international public health agency, which is part of the World Health Organization (WHO). The partnership began with three students from the Autism and School to Work Post High School programs working in two departments, two days a week, evolved to four full-year placements in departments across both PAHO locations, and even transitioned online during the pandemic when many other jobsites had to close.
Students have performed a variety of office tasks, including: entering data in Excel files, preparing directories and lists of event participants, web searches using key words for research papers, creating power point presentations, assembling folders for meetings of 10 to 100 people, preparing USBs for distribution, organizing publications from different partners for distribution, previewing videos for PAHO TV, and writing image descriptions for the website.
Monteiro says the work provides recognizable value to the organization. “They are doing the tasks that are often done at the last minute when we’re preparing for important events, or where people would have to stay overtime to get it done. For example, they’ve organized materials that for years could not be addressed for lack of time.”
Over the years, PAHO also provided space for students to sell hand-made products, involved students in a video series about access to healthcare of people with special needs, and collaborated on a video about the Ivymount-PAHO partnership. That video was shared with WHO headquarters in Geneva and is now part of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities and is a WHO best practice in training for equality and inclusion. Recently, PAHO interviewed Post High School student Katie Mulholland for its 120th anniversary interview series. None of it would have been possible without the determination of Monteiro and her vision of inclusion.