It was a typical morning for the breakfast club in the Life Skills Center room at the West Orange High School on Tuesday morning.
At about 8:30 a.m., student Christelle Charles, 20, walked into the small kitchen located in the Life Skills Center with orders for coffee and food for teachers in the school. Others helped prepare a plate of food, and Charles picked it up and prepared to deliver the plate. The order was for Assistant Principal Louis Della Pia.
“Today is busy,” said Charles with a smile on her way out, adding that teachers can drink a lot of coffee in the morning.
The breakfast club is just one part of the Department of Student Support Services’ program for students aged 18-21. Throughout the morning periods, the club serves as a kind of diner with the students taking menu orders from teachers and bringing them the food.
Jodie Goldstein, transition coordinator for student support serviecs, said the program is geared toward offering special needs students real-world experience.
The program, said Goldstein, “provides kids with prevocational training skills that they can take with them from high school into the real world. ... These are hard working kids and many of them will develop careers from the experiences that they are gaining in the 18-to-21-year old program.”
The nascent program has grown leaps and bounds since it began only four years ago, said Director of Student Support Services Constance Salimbeno. The number of students in the program has jumped from only a handful when it started to about 25 this year. The program also attracts students from outside of the district.
“We do offer something unique here; something that has been designed and developed for our students,” said Salimbeno. “We have students from districts who feel our program is ... valuable, and don’t offer what we offer.”
The Life Skills Center offers students a variety of different programs throughout the day. After the breakfast club closes, students can prepare and serve food in the high school cafeteria or work in the clerical office.
The special needs students also run the school store, the Mountaineer Shop, which opened last year. Opening around lunch time, special needs students act as cashiers while other students browse Mountaineer clothing line of sweatshirts and coffee mugs in the shop.
Students in the program are also bused throughout the town to do work in local businesses, including The Grand Wilshire Hotel and the Courtyard by Marriott.
"These students are ... typically going to be working in their community,” said Goldstein, “and this gives them an opportunity to navigate their community, and make contacts, and have resources so when they graduate they have opportunities to work.”
Charles said after working in the breakfast club in the morning, she usually prepares and serves food in the school's cafeteria. In the past, she has worked as a lunch aide in Pleasantdale Elementary School, too.
“I like talking to kids, talking to teachers,” said Charles. “They love me over there.”
Department of Student Support Services is currently looking for businesses interested in offering placement opportunities for special needs students. For more information, call Jodie Goldstein at (973) 669-5301, ext. 31578, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or CSalimbeno@woboe.org.