Special Education students at Warwick Vets Memorial High School celebrated their seventh annual Friendsgiving Dinner yesterday, having lunch together with traditional Thanksgiving food.
Leah Hazelwood, a teacher’s assistant, explained that students look forward to this day from the first day of school. Vets has three special education programs; Foundations, Focus and Alternative Learning. They come together for lunch to connect, have fun, eat turkey and all the other fixings.
The Alternative Learning Program hosts the event, but students from all three programs are invited with all Vets teachers and student family members.
“Sometimes students transition through the different programs,” explained Ken Genereux, a teacher in the Focus program. “It’s good that we work together to make that transition easier.”
Hazelwood and Genereux explained that many of the students do not have a happy holiday and this allows them to see how the holidays can and should be.
“A lot of kids in this program don’t have fun Thankgivings,” explained Hazelwood, saying difficult home situations or financial strains can add stress to the holiday season on the children.
“You can clearly see it in their behavior. The week before any holiday, you can see the stress bubbling over into school,” said Genereux, adding that this event works to put the holidays in a positive light. “It’s a good way to model what a good holiday can look like.”
Hazelwood explained that Mark Clancy and Nolan Landy are two teachers who spearhead the effort and keep the event going year after year.
“It brings everyone together. It’s a community school and encompasses what we do here,” said Landy.
Sophomore Ali Sollitto said she loves being in the special program and that the teachers are really supportive. She always enjoys Friendsgiving.
“It’s for other teachers to come in and celebrate Thanksgiving with us,” said Sollitto. “It’s a way for us to say thank you to them.”
A number of teachers came through during their lunch period, as well as Vice Principals Joseph Bleczinski and Timothy Kane, and Principal Gerry Habershaw.
“Overall we try to create a family environment here and the ALP do that with this event,” said Habershaw. “The students – they feel they are cared for and they have a home away from home.”
Hazelwood said that she usually does all the cooking for the event, including five turkeys, but because of fundraising efforts so far this year, they decided to purchase prepared food.
Students were also asked to bring in a canned good to the event to donate to the Vets’ “Best Buddies” food drive for the Rhode Island Food Bank.