Laughter and cheers competed with the sounds of rolling bowling balls and falling pins at New City Bowl on Friday afternoon. 24 students from the Felix Festa Middle School Social Skills Group were among the dozens of children, teens and adults filling the lanes and practicing their bowling skills or enjoying friendly games. The group, a mix of mentors and special needs students, meets regularly for a variety of social and fun activities.
Marietta Bennett, a speech language pathologist at the middle school, has been leading the program for three years and works with Special Education teachers Rebecca Barclay and Jodi Caiciotti. Bennett said the gatherings help the sixth seventh and eighth grade students improve their social skills by giving them additional support and social opportunities after school.
Eighth grader Alec Hansraj said this was his second year as one of the 12 mentors with the program. He said it was a good experience for everyone.
“I like that you get to meet new friends,” he said. “I think the best part about it (is) you always have good times.”
Fellow eighth grader Hannah Buckler agreed and added she considers everyone in the program a friend. She has gained from it too.
“I think I’ve learned just to put myself out there and introduce myself to new people even if it’s uncomfortable at first,” she said.
Hansraj said everyone helps each other.
“If they’re good at something or bad at something it’s all the same to me,” he said.
After they finished bowling, everyone sat, ate pizza and talked for a while. Previous group outings included Dave & Buster’s, Bounce, 16 Handles and a Secret Snowflake gift exchange.
Bennett explained the Clarkstown Central School District Autism Task Force funds this and the also the one it is based on, the after-school social skills program for North and South high school students that began about five years ago. She said mentors between 12 and 18 years old are welcome to join the program at any time and can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.