MILLBURN, NJ — How does a district known for sending most of its students to college showcase pathways outside the traditional model?
During Monday night's Millburn Board of Education (BOE) meeting, the board heard from Roger Askins, the transition coordinator at Millburn High School, and Kelly Brandt a special education teacher in the district, who enlightened attendees about something the school runs called the "Real World" Program.
As transition coordinator, Askins works with students that have individualized education plans (IEP) to help them figure out what life is going to be like after high school.
Alongside Brandt, Askins has worked to create the "Real World" program. The program takes one overnight trip per year, where students are paired with peer leaders, as they go to a city, explore a topic that connects to life in the real world and do a charitable deed. Examples of that charity may be volunteering at Ronald McDonald House or Habitat for Humanity, which the group has done in previous years.
Both Askins and Brandt were thankful for the support from the Millburn Ed Foundation and district administration that allows them to fund these trips.
While the program has gone on since 2014, when it started with day trips, the first overnight trip was not undertaken until 2016, when the group went to Hershey, PA. Since then, they have visited Philadelphia, Baltimore and New York City, with Boston up on the docket later in 2020.
"There's things that you can't learn in the classroom that happen out in the community," Askins said. It's taught them flexibility, it's taught them planning. Every year, there's something that tricks us up, and the kids help us to plan for that. That's the realest you can ever be when you get outside the classroom.
Askins noted that while the students going on the trip do have some input as to the destination, the location is usually chosen based on the theme of that year's program. The 2019 expedition to New York City saw students learning about technology, while Philadelphia with its mint had monetary lessons for the class.
For Brandt, the joy she gets from seeing her students have the opportunity to go on these trips is immeasurable.
"It's extremely rewarding to see them be a part of something from the ground up," Brandt said. "And to look at their sense of accomplishment. That's something that you can't just get in the classroom. And to see the students really rise to the occasion is an amazing feeling."
Brandt also said that the trips are rewarding for the buddies that go as well.
"We've gotten letters from students who have been peer leaders who have said tat it was one of the highlights of their high school career," Brandt added. "And that's really great to see."
One such volunteer was Cameron Tuths. Tuths was in attendance at the meeting Monday night, and spoke with TAPinto about his experiences with the program, which he said were incredibly rewarding.
"Some of the things that definitely stand out to me are the volunteer opportunities that we had with the special needs program." Tuths said. "The Ronald McDonald House was a great example of that, I think that we really helped out. Making to-go bags with toiletries and food made me feel great. I think it made the students on the trip feel great."
He continued, "Looking back on the entire experience, how I feel about it is just-I'm going to miss it. That's the number one thing I keep thinking about. It's my last year here and I'm absolutely going to miss this. Just like i did everything else...I'm going to find a way to do this in college, because I don't know if I can go without it."