SCARBOROUGH — A pilot program at Scarborough High School is offering upperclassmen the opportunity to explore career options through internships. 

Spanish teacher Christy Zavasnik said she developed the program “in the doldrums of last winter,” after she began to understand what makes her students tick, and what drove their interest in learning. 

She developed a model after examining other programs across the state and country, and pitched the idea to Principal David Creech, who worked on appropriating funding. 

Creech said the program would not be a success without Zavasnik’s dedication. He said the internship program is a priority and is dedicated to seeking outside opportunities for students that enhances their education. The principal said he hopes the program will grow and a full-time coordinator can be hired to expand it.

Zavasnik worked in partnership with the Scarborough Chamber of Commerce to identify area businesses to work with students.

Thirteen students have enrolled in the pilot program, which started in January and will run through the semester. Students shadow mentors every other day, will accumulate about 100 hours of internship time and earn one credit. 

“The heart of the program is genuine interest and exploration,” Zavasnik said. 

Among other placements, students are working at The Good Theater in Portland, South Portland Veterinary Hospital, and local schools.

Senior Natalie Taylor, who will enroll in a kinesiology program at Temple University this fall, has been interning with MEND Health & Wellness of Maine in Scarborough. Taylor has an interest in physical therapy and chiropractic work, and said she has learned much more than she expected working with chiropractors Drs. Victor and Tracey St. John. 

“I was nervous coming into this, but they have made a really comfortable environment. I’m so into everything I’m learning,” Taylor said, adding she was going home that night to treat her mother with kinesio tape. 

“It’s hard to go back to the classroom setting; I want to be hands-on all the time,” Taylor said, adding she would recommend the course to underclassmen.

The St. Johns also said they would work with students in the future, and believed they would have benefited from a similar program when they were in high school. 

The St. Johns, who opened their practice in October, said they met Zavasnik through the Chamber of Commerce and thought hosting Taylor would be a good way to get involved in the community. They said they have also learned from Taylor, who helped enhance their social media presence and taught them how to use hashtags. 

The pair, who both majored in kinesiology, said they hope they are showing Taylor what their day-to-day work is like, how to listen to patients, and that they approach each injury in an individualized way. They also share with her their path, what fields are possible to pursue, and what they wish they had done differently. 

Zavasnik, in her 14th year of teaching, has a previous background working in marketing and business development. She grew up in Costa Rica and Chile, where her parents worked for the Salvation Army, she said she always maintained a strong sense of social service.

After earning her MBA, she said the work just wasn’t the right fit. “It was my heart calling me back to teaching,” Zavasnik said.

Zavasnik attended Scarborough High School for one year, when she lived with an aunt in town, finished her senior year, and later enrolled in college in the United States. In high school, she said, she was known as “the Chile girl.”

Zavasnik said curiosity is what drives learning in all aspects of life, and her intent in developing the internship program was to provide students with the opportunities to explore their interests before leaving high school. She said she is passionate about the program and grateful Creech recognized its value from the start and trusted her guidance. 

“This can truly be something phenomenal for the kids and the community,” she said. 

Juliette Laaka can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or at [email protected]

Scarborough High School senior Alexis Ivers, center, observes a procedure at South Portland Veterinary Hospital with Dr. Jennifer Allen, right, and Amanda Poitras. 

Natalie Taylor, a senior at Scarborough High School, uses a tool created for treating soft tissue injures on Dr. Tracey St. John of MEND Health & Wellness of Maine. Taylor is one of 13 students participating in the school’s internship program.