Students from the Culinary class at Bayonne High School, and members of the Culinary Club have come together for this special occasion—a Thanksgiving feast—not only served but created by these two groups.
Corn bread served with tongs, cranberry sauce with a spoon, gravy with a ladle, and for one lucky student, the knife and fork to slice one of two turkeys steaming from the still-warm ovens that line this special culinary room.
It was early for Thanksgiving but a special moment nonetheless.
Not all those who gathered on this Wednesday in late November wore chefs’ hats, although everyone in the room played a role in making this Thanksgiving feast.
Many wore aprons; some wore oven gloves to pull cookies or pans of steaming cherry or pumpkin pie from the oven.
The group includes members of the high school’s culinary class, the after-school culinary club, and special-needs students who also are part of the school store next door.
“They came together to cook and share this Thanksgiving dinner,” says Barbero, culinary teacher, club advisor, and instructor in the special-needs program.
For the special-needs students, this is not only a treat but a necessity, a culmination of a series of life-skills classes that start in two of the district’s elementary schools, one a Life Skills Center where special-needs students up to 21 years old learn fundamental, everyday skills.
Kids saddled with the extra burden of autism learn the basic skills that will eventually allow them to make their way in the wider world beyond school.
The Life Skills program in two elementary schools, Woodrow Wilson and Washington Community, is the middle piece in a comprehensive series of programs in Bayonne that help autistic kids from pre-school through high school and beyond.
For pre-school kids, Bayonne has the Busy Bee Center for Children with Autism, at Bayonne Medical Center, an early-intervention program, about seven years old. This is a cooperative effort of the City of Bayonne, the Bayonne Board of Education, and the Simpson Baber Foundation.
Bayonne High School has a Life Skills program for students up to age 21. Although the new culinary room serves as a classroom for daytime high-school students, and a place for the after- school club, it is also part of the Life Skills program and the reason why the school district partnered with the Simpson Baber Foundation to upgrade it.
Barbero meets with these young adults each month to teach meal preparation and planning, cooking, shopping, and nutrition. The Culinary Life Skills helps young adults in a setting that is safe, informative, and entertaining. They meet on the third Wednesday of each month from 5 to 9 p.m.
The Busy Bee program in elementary school builds a base of experience to carry on into high school, where an even more comprehensive program helps them learn working skills.
The more the students do in elementary classes to learn the basic lessons of life, the better prepared they are to begin using them in a social setting at unpaid and paid internships with local businesses.
At the high school, students get a vocational assessment, giving educators an idea of their skill level. Some may go on to college. Some may go into trade schools. Some may even transition into jobs or into programs where they can continue to use the skills they learned here.
The program—from Busy Bee through high school—allows people at every level to function.
The goal is for students to transition into an activity after high school, such as college, business school, or a job. Some kids can remain in the school system for up to age 21 before they have to find a career path.
Once students leave elementary school, they are given a functionality assessment when they enter the ninth grade, and are watched until they finish high school.
Each student gets a job coach.
For the Thanksgiving feast, everybody mingles and takes his or her share of the duties.
“They all came together to prepare a nice Thanksgiving meal,” Barbero said.
The kids started cooking at 3 p.m. and sat down for the meal at around 7 p.m.
Barbero is the daytime instructor for the class, the advisor for after-school club, and the head of the autistic program at night.
Patricia Fields, who all the students call “Mrs. Fields,” helps out, saying she has been with the program for nearly 20 years, and knows many of the older autistic members from when they were very young.
Barbero said the class, club, and autistic program are almost interchangeable and that they do a number of projects with each other.
“We support each in a sense,” he said. “Our budgets are separate, but we work together when needed.”
The Culinary Class cooks lunches once a month for high-school teachers. The club raises money by selling nuts and other things for the holidays.
Some club members are former students of the class and wanted to continue the experience after school
Andréa Miksca has been a member of the club since September. She graduated from another high school in 2009. She was responsible for cooking the chocolate cherry cheese cake.
“I found out about it in the newspaper,” she said.
Leah Montalvo has been a member of the club for about a month. She was in the class last year. She helped make the pumpkin pie.
She said she is headed to the Hudson County Community College program, which is rated as one of the best ht the county.
“I want to be a pastry chef,” she said.
For some the program is s a career path, for others it is a hobby, while for those special-needs kids it is a life skill that will help them fend for themselves, Barbero said.
The room has everything these students need, a significant upgrade from what they had before. It’s part of a renovation that was paid for by Simpson Baber Foundation and the Board of Education. While the culinary class meets during the day as part of the regular class schedule, the club meets after school.
The school store was also upgraded over the summer, with help from the Bayonne Community Bank. Members of the staff help the kids learn about basic skills, such as how to make change, the value of items they sell, and other skills they will need beyond the classroom.
This is a kind of retail laboratory, said Peggy Baber, founder of the Simpson Baber Foundation, where the special needs kids get some practical, hands-on experience. Some students earn community-service credits through the club that they will need for graduation.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.