Learning Life Skills as Business Booms

The yellow school buses outside LifeTown can mean just one thing: school programs at LifeTown have resumed! The LifeTown Shoppes brimmed with activity as kids from three schools navigated their way around town.

Oohs and ahhs went up from the children from the Wanaque School in Passaic County when they heard they would get to shop and ride bikes. It wasn’t long before they were creating masterpieces in Ahuva’s Art Store, making appointments in the doctors’ offices, and purchasing snacks at ShopRite.

“This is a great way to introduce our kids to outings in a safe and sensory friendly space,” said Nicole Protomastro, district behaviorist with the Wanaque School in Passaic County, “These kids do not always get to go into the community with their families because the crowds can be difficult. Most don’t know how to withdraw money from the bank or go to the grocery store. Here, they can practice these skills and associate something fun with the learning process.”

Meanwhile, a few students from the PG Chambers school in Cedar Knolls wandered into the pet store where Gizzie, a small dog, settled onto James’ lap while his classmate, Antonio, watched the fish swimming in the tank. Nearby, another student decided to get her nails done, and a third was purchasing chips at ShopRite. After paying, he remembered to put them in the bag and indicated his excitement through his body language.

“It’s our first field trip in a number of years,” said Jen Jacobs, speech therapist from PG Chambers School. “This is unbelievable. We wanted to give our students a real life experience they don’t usually get. These stores feel so real, but tailored for our students. They are accessible and meaningful, and everything is totally student driven. They choose where to go. It’s not as staff led as school usually is, they get to create their own experience.”

For older students from the Deron School in Montclair, even the first stop at the bank, where they “withdrew” $12 for the day’s “shopping” was a critical learning moment.

“Visiting the LifeTown Shoppes is a perfect fit to practice everything from safely traveling to financial literacy to community-based teaching,” said Lauren Magierowski, a teacher from the Deron School in Montclair.

Students weren’t the only ones benefiting. Another LifeTown participant, Matthew Cohen, was among the volunteers on hand. Along with volunteer Howard Charish, he was serving ice cream. “I love working here,” Matthew said. “I love putting the sprinkles on the ice cream and making people happy!” He collected the day’s profits in his apron, and later showed them off. “Business is good!” he beamed, and then went to help another customer.

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