Whether you are younger or older, all parties can benefit from a new program through which students at Apollo-Ridge middle and high schools assist seniors at the Apollo Senior Center each month.

Kristen Barta, transition high school coordinator and an emotional support teacher for sixth through 12th grades, put together the program with Brandi Sieczkowski, the life skills teacher for grades six through 12 at the middle school. Carole Harland, assistant manager of the Senior Center, also helped out.

Cristine Kostiuk, administrative assistant to Apollo-Ridge School District Supt. Dr. Matthew Curci, had the idea after two students helped with an art project at the Senior Center last summer.

The initiative is a way to help Life Skills students and promote the Senior Center, she says. The school even helped set up a Facebook page, “Apollo Senior Community Center.”

“We go once a month and our kids do a variety of activities,” Barta says. “One of the things we work on is job skills, so they help set up tables, help decorate. We had a Halloween party, a Christmas party, so they’ll go in ahead of time and decorate.”

Students also help clean the kitchen and take down all the tables and chairs after events are held at the Senior Center, Barta says.

Those are life skills we may take for granted but are important to learn.

“Our goal is to teach them to be successful, self-dependent and self-sufficient once they leave Apollo-Ridge,” Barta says. “So, a lot of these skills they learn are things we do every day, that come naturally for us; but for these students, it can be a struggle.”

The goal is to enable students to live on their own and hold jobs after they complete their educations, Barta says.

This is the first school year during which students are visiting the Senior Center. Students and seniors have bonded through the program.

“The Senior Center wanted to work more with the students from the middle school and high school,” Barta says. “They sit with them. They help them with bingo, with arts, with their (food) trays. We develop activities. For Halloween, we developed a Halloween bingo for them to play.

“They help them, but they really interact with them, which is great to see because a lot of our students don’t have grandparents. To have them talk or engage with someone who is older than them, it’s nice to see. The kids really love it.”

So do the seniors, Harland says.

“It’s working out absolutely wonderfully because the younger people are getting to know older people and the seniors are getting to talk with teenagers again,” Harland explains. “We have found the kids to be very receptive to anything and everything we do. You’ve never seen such a wonderful bunch of teenagers in your life.”

Students are always courteous and eager to help, she adds.

“I was nervous because I wasn’t sure how this would be received,” she admits. “‘Very well’ was the result.”

Students danced when an Elvis impersonator performed at a Christmas party, much to the seniors’ delight.

A visit on Jan. 15 saw students and seniors make blankets for the Ronald McDonald House at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. They also played bingo. The next day, several seniors commented about how much fun they had

“We call them our special friends,” Harland says. “It’s always a good day.”

Sieczkowski agrees.

“It’s been beneficial, especially socially for our students,” she says. “When they have to talk to someone new, they can get a little nervous. Now they initiate conversations on their own.”

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