Tags Posts tagged with "Life Skills"

Life Skills

By Rich Acritelli

As Rocky Point High School special education teachers Jessica Gentile and Kristina Muratore sought new ways to enhance their life skills classes, Rocky Perk was started on March 17, 2023.The program offers students an opportunity to shop for needed items to make different types of coffee, refreshments and snacks. Started by using donations from staff members, Rocky Perk has seen substantial growth over the last year.

Muratore has been pleased with the progress of her students as “over the last few years our 12:1:1 program [for students with intellectual disabilities] has evolved into this outstanding experience that our students, staff and community has enjoyed. It warms my heart that everyone is able to see the daily talents of our students.”

As part of the program, the students work in a hands-on classroom that has a stove, sink, refrigerator, washer and dryer to handle the rigors of Rocky Perk, which has strengthened independent living skills. The students have also created a menu for the cafe and will be expanding their repertoire with an exciting new vanilla raspberry spritzer, which will be offered to its customers sometime soon. 

Gentile glowingly identified the remarkable growth of her students as “they thrive on serving others through Rocky Perk and are independently functioning to ensure that different types of orders are properly fulfilled and delivered.”

But the life skills program does not end in the kitchen. Continuing to follow the best interests of her students, Gentile also spearheaded the implementation of the Unified Eagles basketball team led by the life skills students. The team is made up of players who have intellectual disabilities paired with mainstream student-athletes. Gentile credits the district’s athletic director, Jonathon Rufa, in being a driving force in establishing this new initiative. 

As the Unified Eagles, the team has played two games. Gentile firmly believes “there is a growth of confidence in her players, who have an iron sense of pride who have also forged unique friendships. I am grateful to be part of this amazing group.”

High school students Brett Condos, Sydney Woods, Sarah May and Ella Rau have assisted the Unified Eagles on the court. A talented athlete, Woods said, “I love guiding members of this team and watching them try their very best.” 

When asked about the future of this Eagles squad, it is the goal of Gentile to garner more school and public support to rally this wonderful group of players. When asked if she would again lead this team next year, Gentile said, “Heck yeah!”

Comsewogue students recently worked at the local Chick-fil-A in Port Jeff Station as part of their Life Skills curriculum. Photo courtesy Andrew Harris
By Camila Perez Solis

Comsewogue High School’s Life Skills class students were given the opportunity to work at the local Chick-fil-A in Port Jefferson Station, putting their learning into practice. 

This weekly event was made possible by several donations from companies across the Comsewogue community and support from administration and staff.

Michael Mosca, CHS principal, reacted to the unique educational endeavor. “This incredible work experience is a product of the incredible vision of our Life Skills teacher, Katy Dornicik, and our School to Career Partnership that is spearheaded by Mr. Ketterer, Mr. Joudeh and the rest of the business department,” he said.

Mosca added, “Stan, from our local Chick-fil-A, has been a tremendous supporter of our Work Based Learning initiative.”

The principal also mentioned that this initiative is just the beginning, with plans in the works to build upon this experience and develop the program even further. “Each year, we plan to add more opportunities for all of our students through our growing community partnerships,” Mosca said.

During these visits, students put together salad kits, cleaned tables and windows, and restocked shelves. They are excited to implement the skills that they have learned in Dornicik’s classroom into the real world.

Camila Perez Solis is a foreign-exchange student from Ecuador and a junior at Comsewogue High School.

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Maria Rivas washes windows at Buffalo Wild Wings as part of a work-study program. Photo by Erika Karp

By Erika Karp

Tyler Butler, a 16-year-old special needs student at Centereach High School, has a plan. He wants to go to Suffolk County Community College, get married and have a family, but he knows he needs a job first. Butler has taken a step in the right direction though, thanks to the life skills’ work-study program at Centereach High School.

Jacob Robinson learns work skills at Buffalo Wild Wings in Centereach. Photo by Erika Karp
Jacob Robinson learns work skills at Buffalo Wild Wings in Centereach. Photo by Erika Karp

On a Thursday morning, hours before Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar in Centereach is crowded with customers, Butler, along with three of his peers, is diligently getting the restaurant ready for business. Butler is laying down mats, while Maria Rivas, 18, washes windows; Anthony Miglino, 20, sets up chairs; and Jacob Robinson, 16, fills Wetnap caddies.

While the students’ disabilities vary, all of them are learning skills to help them become more independent as they enter adulthood.

“They need to experience real-life situations [and] real-life jobs,” said Debbie O’Neill, a 26-year special education teacher in the Middle Country Central School District.

O’Neill, along with Peggy Dominguez, who has been teaching in the district for 27 years, advocated for and initiated the work-study program three years ago.

In the beginning, O’Neill and Dominguez were surprised by how many businesses didn’t want help and that some people felt the students were being taken advantage of. Today, students rotate between different local businesses five days a week visiting places like Old Navy, The Home Depot, Holiday Inn Express and St. Charles Hospital.

Dominguez said that many of the skills people take for granted are ones their students don’t have, but by immersing them in a real job situation, they’re able to work on social skills and become more independent. The program has also grown tremendously this year to more than 50 students, as many who in the past sat for the Regents competency tests have transitioned into the life skills program.

Centereach High School Principal Tom Bell said in a phone interview that the program is beneficial for all students, as the life skills students are more immersed in everyday school life. “They feel more part of the school,” he said.

In addition to the off-campus work-study, younger students, along with those who aren’t ready to work off campus, are working on campus. This year, the students are helping district staff with clerical and custodial tasks, in addition to running a campus store and a café. Students who run the café bake items, take orders, deliver goods and keep inventory.

Anthony Miglino is part of a work study program at Centereach High School. Photo by Erika Karp

According to special seducation teacher Darla Randazzo who runs the café, the work-study program has helped build the students’ confidence. Randazzo said that by the time a student leaves school, they will have a resume or portfolio that showcases all of their skills.

“When they leave school, they’ll have more skills to bring to the job,” she said.
Superintendent Roberta Gerold said the program is still growing as more students are now opting to participate in work-study instead of attending BOCES programs.
Gerold said it is a wonderful thing that the students are learning to be as independent as possible.

Rivas, who has been participating in the off-campus work-study program for three years and has attended BOCES in the past, said she enjoys the program because she can learn about everything. While she has a part-time job on the weekends, she is hoping she could get another one at Buffalo Wild Wings.

So far, two students have been offered jobs, and while this seems like a small number, Dominguez said it is a major accomplishment. Often times, the small achievements are the best kind.

A few days ago, while working at The Home Depot, Butler correctly directed a customer to the outdoor lighting fixtures. As the students were walking back to the bus, they saw the customer leaving the store with what he was looking for.

“Sometimes the successes are small,” Dominguez said. “But it makes such a difference.”