There was excitement in the air Friday morning during a "celebratory tea" held at Lehigh County Community College. Teachers and administrators beamed, students smiled and food was plentiful as everyone gathered to commemorate the beginning of a new mentoring program that pairs special needs Parkland High School Students with LCCC students.
The program is called Transitions and it was started to help students in Parkland's life skills class bridge the gap between high school and the "real world." Most of them have already graduated from high school but continue to attend until they are 21.
"If you look at this crowd, you can't tell which are Parkland students and which are the mentors," Parkland Supervisor of Special Education Louise Fick said. "We are trying to prepare our students for the world and we needed to do something different - now our kids are saying they go to college."
Once a week 12 Parkland students travel to LCCC to spend a couple hours with their mentors. For Parkland student Angel Rodriguez, 20, it is "always fun." He and 18-year-old Alexis Squitieri, his LCCC mentor and fellow Parkland graduate, hang out, eat lunch and even bake cookies - chocolate chip and oatmeal.
"I look forward to it every week," Squitieri said. "We graduated from Parkland together but we don't remember each other - I really hope we get paired together next semester."
The program is all about the relationships. On Friday, mentors and students, who are all about the same age, sat together at tables while eating goodies and sharing laughs. Nineteen-year-old Matt Chorney entertained the group with Christmas songs he played on his electric guitar while teachers and administrators looked on with pride.
LCCC Professor of Education Joe Davis delivered a heart-felt thank you to everyone involved before distributing certificates and t-shirts to mentors and students.
"The students are learning soft skills that are hard to teach - like listening, developing relationship and getting to know the person behind the student," Davis said. "It's a real-life lab."
Both Davis and Fick said there are no limits to where the program can go. They both anticipate that other districts and other community colleges will either participate or start similar programs.
Next Friday will be the last mentor/student meeting this semester and Rodriguez made a point to address the crowd and make it known that they all wanted to keep their mentors for next semester.
If they don't, Rodriguez said he will still be able to visit Squitieri, because she works at Pizza Hut and he works down the road at Burger King. He's stopped by once already to say hi.