Nancy LaVarnway

LaVarnway Retires: CDC is Her Legacy to SBHS

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Thursday December 07, 2017

Within South Burlington High School (SBHS), the Career Development Center (CDC), an experiential learning community launched by Nancy LaVarnway 19 years ago, has pumped vitality into the school. The CDC serves as a hub for individuals volunteering or partaking in internships and offers students a variety of enriching opportunities. After close to two decades of service to the school and local community as director of the program, LaVarnway is set to retire later this month.

“I have immensely enjoyed my tenure at the helm of the South Burlington High School’s Career Development Center and in particular, the many relationships that have been built within the community. I am most proud of the success of the all the students who have chosen to participate in the enriching opportunities found in the CDC. I will cherish all the personal and professional relations that I have had the privilege of sharing,” said LaVarnway.

Prior to the CDC, SBHS had a selective capstone-like experience called the Alternative Learning Program run by Jeanette Andrew. When LaVarnway arrived, she reconfigured it and renamed it the Career Development Center. She was tasked by then SBHS Principal Donna Moyer to expand the program to include as many students as possible. Having years of experience in “getting cooperative education and internship programs off the ground,” as well as various professional contacts from running her own company and creating educational curricula, LaVarnway was well prepared for the job. She began by establishing the program, developing partnerships with members of the school district, and reaching out to the community. CDC participation progressively rose to 25 percent of the student body and, through the gradual addition of programs, eventually grew to 69 percent, a total of 1,054 internship and volunteer placements. Many of the new programs were developed due to LaVarnway’s professional connections, including her previous work as internship director at Saint Michael’s College, owner of a career consultation business, and as career development specialist at Norwich University.

Within a year of being hired at SBHS, LaVarnway created a student publication called Career Clues that was the precursor to the current group of student writers, the CDC Correspondents (CDCC). Career Clues was printed and distributed through the community library and served to “promote the CDC by using the examples of great stuff happening in the office.” Eventually, LaVarnway forged a partnership with George Chamberland, the former owner of The Other Paper, in which student articles were published for the entire community. Today, The Other Paper Publisher and Editor Judy Kearns continues to support submissions from the CDCC student writers, helping to bring greater awareness of student activities to the broader community.

LaVarnway also created the high school’s Career and Job EXPO each spring. She had organized similar events at Saint Michael’s College, knowing the importance of students having the opportunity to experience networking and “cold conversations,” walking up to and talking to someone you don’t know. Through the EXPO, a student-driven event, students learn skill-based readiness; they build the confidence to approach people, start a conversation, and ask informed questions.

“We’re trying to do an awful lot during those EXPOs, but they work,” LaVarnway remarked. She is especially proud of the EXPO Ambassador Program, in which students host participating company representatives. She claims the program is “probably one of the best things that we’ve done through the CDC.” In its first year, the EXPO had 30 career representatives; this number has increased to 92 and continues to grow.

Additionally, LaVarnway co-created the Coalition for Community Service (CCS) with health teacher Erin Randall-Mullins more than 18 years ago. Started as small club, it is now the largest community service organization in the school.

Reflecting on those who have been involved in the CDC over the years, LaVarnway noticed a pattern. Though CDC participants come from various backgrounds, they are all “incredibly dedicated people,” she declared. “They understand intrinsically that to be a good citizen, you have to give back to your community … I’m always amazed at what [they] can accomplish.” She claims that they “take ownership” of their internships and placements, and “that’s one thing that I think is really unique about the CDC … I’m sort of the gatekeeper of the information, but the people who are running these programs - these students - own it.”

LaVarnway has made an indelible impression on students involved in the CDC over the years. “She has undoubtedly touched countless lives,” remarks senior CCS External Vice President, Kiran Waqar. She most admires LaVarnway’s “can-do attitude” and her drive to “always [look] for new ways to achieve bigger and better things.”

Senior CDC correspondent Megan Harton says she will most miss LaVarnway’s “love for her students,” and dreads “going into the CDC and not seeing her smiling face.” Harton adds, “She has taught me that giving back to your community is important.”

College freshman and former Senior Challenge participant, Rachel Norotsky, says she admires “how much [LaVarnway] believes in her students. Her confidence in me created confidence in myself.” She also respects LaVarnway’s “incessant positivity,” and adds, “She is so passionate about the work she does and this leads her students to feel passionate about their work as well.”

Junior CDC Correspondent and CCS Assistant Marketing Officer Ann Wong remarks that LaVarnway is “willing to help anyone who walks through her doors” and is “an amazing mentor.” She also fondly remembers LaVarnway encouraging her to try new things and get further involved in the community. “Mrs. LaVarnway is one of a kind … irreplaceable. She never fails to put a smile on my face.”

Reflecting on her own educational background, LaVarnway recalls, “When I was in graduate school … I did an internship in the Career Development Office. I found my passion in life … It’s not what I was thinking of doing, and that’s the whole point of doing internships and volunteering, because sometimes you discover things that you didn’t know you had so much passion for,” adding that, just like her SBHS CDC participants over the years, she too has followed “all the same steps!”

SOURCE: Ali Barritt, Former SBHS CDC Correspondent