Work Experience Success Stories

Meet Elias: CRAEA Work Experience Program Graduate

Meet Elias, a young man with a talent for welding. At two and a half years old, Elias was diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD). Children with PDD experience developmental delays, including difficulty socializing and communicating. Following graduation from the CRAEA work experience program and after earning his degree at Iowa Lakes Community College, Elias is now a valued employee at Winnebago Industries. Through the power of determination and support from AEA staff, his family, and beloved teachers, Elias is leading a meaningful life and enjoys a successful career.

Central Rivers AEA Partners with Mason City High School to Provide Students with Unique Needs (S.U.N.) with Work Experience at Local Businesses

The key educational ingredients for some students at Mason City High School are local opportunities and fresh pizza pies. At Mason City High School, the work experience program is helping high school students learn new skills and build post-secondary education goals through local opportunities.

The Students with Unique Needs (S.U.N.) program at the Mason City High School partners with local businesses to help find a good fit for their students to gain work experience that will help guide them to their post-secondary education goals. The work experience program team at Mason City High School is made up of paraeducators, teachers, administration and Central Rivers Area Education Agency (CRAEA) staff. Stephanie Storby, Work Experience Coordinator with CRAEA and Pam Crawford, paraeducator with Mason City High School have been working closely with some S.U.N. students.

Godfather’s Pizza in Mason City is right across the street from the high school. The restaurant was happy to open its doors to help students.

“Godfather’s takes the time to teach these students how to prep, measure/weigh ingredients and make their own pizzas, said Storby. “It’s been a great success for these students to have that exposure and inclusion piece in a place that takes the time and treats them as their own staff. These opportunities are definitely something Godfather’s will continue providing for future students.”

Pam Crawford, a paraeducator at Mason City High School, works with S.U.N. students.

“I know that I am a positive role model for students and I am helping them accomplish life skills,” said Crawford. “Working with these students has been a very rewarding experience for me.”

During the second semester of the student’s work experience placements, the students were connected with an outside service partner who will assist in paying and supporting them after graduation through the summer to work at Godfathers. This allows for a supported work transition from high school to postsecondary work with the ultimate goal of being independently hired part-time through Godfather’s Pizza in the fall.

The collaboration between Mason City High School and CRAEA has helped Storby in her role as work experience coordinator.

“Trying to identify the best placement for students – a place where they have a variety of tasks to achieve and find what is best for them has been very rewarding,” said Storby. “The partnership made it a good fit for opportunities for our students. We work together – the paraeducator support from the schools – collaboration is a key factor to success.”

While it’s important to meet the students where they are, challenging them with new skills and tasks is what creates success.

“Our agency helps give students new experiences and opportunities that differ from what they usually get in their general classroom setting. 

Storby’s advice to schools that want to take advantage of a work experience program with their students is for the team to identify exactly why we are here – for the students.

“When you look at their Individualized Education Program (IEP), what is the postsecondary goal for this student? Getting as much input as possible and getting them the most experience and support to meet their individual needs is the most important step,” said Storby. “The process starts with us making connections, as work experience coordinators, through CRAEA, but once it’s set up, we connect with outside services to help our students continue to have that support after high school.”

For more information on work experience at the Mason City High School, contact Stephanie Storby, CRAEA Work Experience Coordinator at For more information on how CRAEA can support your district’s needs, contact Rod Ball, CRAEA Director of Special Programs at

Transition: Working to Build a Life Beyond High School

Hear the story of how Elias, a high school student with special needs, has made strides in developing a variety of work and life skills that will aid him after graduation. Elias has worked closely with Central Rivers AEA Work Experience Coordinator, Farrah, throughout his educational career. H has participated in several employment roles to build job skills, including working at Bill’s Family Foods in Forest City, IA.