Shannon Keating makes a big difference as Duquesne City's Behavior Support and Intervention Specialist

Posted by Jeremy Tepper on 1/29/2024

A woman sits at a desk in front of a laptop

When Shannon Keating was a student, school was her safe space. Ms. Keating remembers a number of adults who helped uplift her, and propel her forward, even in some rough times. 

In her role as the Duquesne City School District’s Behavior Support and Intervention Specialist, Ms. Keating hopes to be the same positive influence that those adults were on her in the past. She looks to be someone students can trust, someone they can always talk to, no matter the situation.

“As a kid, I would go to school and I would feel safe, wanted and cherished,” Ms. Keating said. “At school, I felt like there were adults that believed in me. I would go to school and feel like I’m capable of doing well.”

Ms. Keating's position is funded by Project SEEKS SES,  a grant partnership between the AIU and ACHD that supports school districts in addressing social and emotional health. Before starting in the district this school year, Ms. Keating was a social worker in the Penn Hills School District for six years. Ms. Keating got her Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work from the California University of Pennsylvania and her Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Pittsburgh. From the beginning, her post-secondary education journey was always obvious, always what she wanted to do.

“I feel really lucky in a way because I never questioned what I wanted to do,” Ms. Keating said. “By the time that I was old enough to make decisions about going to college, it was really easy for me to know that I wanted to work with kids.”

Ms. Keating first started hearing positive things about the Duquesne City School District from a coworker of her’s at Penn Hills, who worked in Duquesne City previously, and praised the district’s relationship with the community. 

Later on, Ms. Keating ran into Rachel Butler-Pardi — the district’s Mental Health and Behavior Support Coordinator/Attendance Officer — at an information session for the University of Pittsburgh’s Education Doctorate program, and that solidified a gut feeling.

“She was telling me how amazing it is, and the focus on mental health and all of the resources and time that the district is putting in to prioritize mental health,” Ms. Keating said. 

“It felt so strange and serendipitous to run into her. I don’t get gut feelings often. So I emailed her the next day to let me know if a position ever opens up.”

Thus far, all the positive things that Ms. Keating previously heard about the district has been validated.

“There’s a really good crew here. Almost immediately, I felt like people were concerned with including me here, which is really nice,” Ms. Keating said. “I feel like our mental health team works really well together. People listen to me. People want to know what I have to say. I feel comfortable sharing how I feel. It’s been really great.”

On a day-to-day basis, Ms. Keating’s responsibilities can look a little different. Some of the main tenets of her position include responding to crises, working with teachers who have students with mental health or behavioral concerns, fortifying the district’s PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports Images) system, and conducting groups of students that focus on social skills and friendship.

Of the latter responsibility, Ms. Keating works with teachers to pick out students who might need help with their social skills. Those students then work together — playing games, telling stories and making art. It’s a safe, relaxed environment that encourages socializing.

“The students don't normally see what we are doing as "work," but while engaged in the group they are receiving frequent feedback from me about things like sharing, taking turns and using kind words,” Ms. Keating said. “It's a structured way to learn while playing that I think can be pretty impactful, especially in age groups that begin to struggle with conflict.”

In all of Ms. Keating’s work, she continually focuses on building trust, and being a consistently positive presence. These qualities are key for Ms. Keating, especially when dealing with crises, or a student who might regularly have trouble regulating their behaviors and emotions.

“I feel lucky because I can just take kids for who they are and I’m not trying to change them or judge them. I can meet them where they are, and just get on their level,” Ms. Keating said. 

“A big thing with kids is they’ll test you to see how you’ll respond when they mess up. And for me, it comes easily that a kid could make a poor choice but the following day it’s a new day. I might be really upset at the moment, but the following day I’m there, happy to see them. I genuinely feel that.”

Ms. Keating describes her position as being very malleable, which allows her to shift and change her days, and deal with issues in her realm as she sees fit. Among one her burgeoning responsibilities, Ms. Kesting is helping pilot an alternative to suspension program that begins at the end of January. 

“Something I’m thinking about is having a more restorative approach to our discipline. So with Dr. (Jennifer) Jennings and Ms. Butler-Pardi and a few others, we’ve been planning this alternative to suspension, where kids will get assigned there as a consequence, but a huge part of their day will be counseling and social groups and processing what they did. And then they’re going to set goals and become part of a check-in system,” Ms. Keating said.

Additionally, Ms. Keating said she’s been thinking a lot about staff wellness recently, and how she can help support the district’s staff. Recently, during some remote learning days, Ms. Keating set up a Google Meet where staff members could pop in to talk to one another about how they’re doing at work and in life.

Those efforts are a great encapsulation of Ms. Keating’s approach to her job. From students to teachers and everyone in between, Ms. Keating is always just looking to help out, approaching everyone with a kind, open-minded disposition.