HAMILTON, NJ -- Fridays at Hamilton Township’s Grice Middle School are a little bit extra special for the students at the Gladiator Café which serves up a healthy dose of comradery and life skills.  The classroom is home to the students in grades six through eight from throughout the Hamilton School District.

The Gladiator Café was created six years ago to help students learn basic skills that will stay with them throughout their lives at home, in school, and, eventually, in the workforce. 

Students need to “apply” and “interview” for their assigned job position in the Café.  Available positions include greeters at the door, as well as those assigned to preparing snacks, delivering coffee, waiting on guests, and cleaning up. 

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Joey Valvo, mom to 12-year-old Sadee, says that she has seen an improvement in her daughter since she’s been a part of the Café.  Sadee has been more helpful at home with chores and household tasks including beginning to help in the kitchen, Joey added.

The students are led by a core team of school professionals -- teachers Susan Conrad, Marissa Erickson and Pete Valenzano, as well as education assistants Melissa Hooper, Vince Radice, and Catherine Mackersie, solely dedicated to providing specialized instruction to this group who have mostly been together since elementary school.

“I am proud of all of my students and worry about them all the same,” said Grice Principal David Innocenzi.   “But, when I have a bad day, the Gladiator Café and the classroom with this group of students is my ‘go to’ place.

“Parents of these students are very supportive. Many even join us on Fridays for Café days,” added Innocenzi.   “Our team in the classroom goes above and beyond.”

“We could not do all of this (with the Café) without the support of the school administration. We know they are deeply invested,” said Conrad. 

Every month, the students vote among themselves for “Employee of the Month”, a classmate who has made a special impact on the Café that month. 

At the end of each Café day, the students come together around a table with their teachers to talk about how the morning went.  Each student is given the opportunity to speak about what they felt went well for themselves that day, and where they may need to improve.   

Innocenzi, and all the teachers, smile with pride as they speak about their students and the strides that they will make thanks to the lessons learned at the Gladiator Café. 

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