MONROE – Each week, a large meeting room at the Monroe Township Senior Center transforms into a busy classroom for a small gathering of special needs students.
The Monroe Township High School upperclassmen, part of the district’s Transitioning Adult Program, are accompanied by a team of educators and paraprofessionals who visit with a few senior citizen volunteers.
The community-based instruction encourages socialization among the intergenerational group, a framework and teaching model that has been tailored, lauded and adopted by District Transition Coordinator Erica Friedman.
“The social aspect can be difficult because our students think concretely and not abstractly,” Jeffrey Shanfield, a special education teacher and job coach at the high school, who has been escorting this growing roster of students to the senior center for a second year in a row, said in a statement provided by the township. “We work on the soft skills, like not interrupting, active listening, saying please and thank you. At the senior center, we’re exposing them to other adults, who give them directions, have conversations and help them develop their independence in being able to talk to someone.”
On April 16, Monroe high school senior Vincent M. Baureko spoke with a group of seniors, hinting at his love of the culinary arts with a few anecdotes from the kitchen.
“If you’re super shy, you get into a conversation. … We talk about how our day was, what we’re doing (and) who is the best at Uno,” Vincent said. “Socially, it’s good for us.”
Many of the students’ counterparts are returning senior volunteers, some who are former educators.
“I love interacting with the children; they’re all such good kids,” Monroe resident and program volunteer Marie Valvano said in the statement. “There’s a satisfaction that comes from getting to know them.”
On occasion, the senior center, like other area businesses, will also play a role in the district’s structured learning experience program or on-the-job training, which aims to helps students develop and one day apply appropriate work habits, like self-management, workplace safety, interpersonal skills, collaboration and problem-solving techniques, according to the statement.
They may benefit from simple supervised tasks at the senior center like bagging nonperishables for the food pantry or helping stuff envelopes for a mailer, according to the center’s director, Bonnie Leibowitz.
“They’ve been an integral part of our senior center and it’s just plain, ordinary fun,” she added. “When they walk out of here, everyone is happy.”
For more information on Monroe Township School District’s Transitioning Adult Program, call 732-521-2111 or email Erica.Friedman@monroe.k12.nj.us.