If the first Thanksgiving was about new friends coming together for the first time, it’s a tradition that has been carried on well at St. Dominic School in Brick for the last decade.
Every year during Thanksgiving week, third graders at the Catholic school welcome students from the Harbor School, a school for disabled children in Eatontown, for a Thanksgiving feast, sing-along and community gathering.
“It’s very nice for them to come here, because they love music and it’s so nice for us to have a feast and a day like this,” said Erica, a third grade student at St. Dominic.
The annual tradition began 10 years ago and has united the two schools in a unique bond ever since. It all began when Anne Gunteski, the Harbor School principal, came to St. Dominic on career day to talk about the education field and working with children with special needs. Gunteski said her visit was so well-received that she contacted St. Dominic School Principal Carol Bathmann to brainstorm ideas about how the schools could collaborate.
The relationship has remained strong ever since.
“The Harbor School visits us for our third and fourth grade concert, we invite them to our Thanksgiving feast, and in December, our fifth graders are invited over to see their holiday show,” said Bathmann.
The annual Thanksgiving feast, enjoyed by about 58 third graders from St. Dominic and 35 students of varying ages from Harbor, is the highlight of the schools’ shared activities. For students from both schools, the feast offers a unique and valuable learning experience.
“In our social studies classes, we learn about community,” said Laura Wolchko, a third grade teacher at St. Dominic. “This is a great community event and they enjoy it. Everyone works together.”
“For our students, because all of our kids are disabled, they need exposure to typical experiences,” said Gunteski. “Being out in the community is important to us – being a part of something beyond our school. Our kids are very comfortable here. They feel very welcomed, supported and it’s very interactive.”
“I love coming to this school,” said Juan, another student from Harbor. “It feels great, and the kids singing to me remind me of me when I was little.”
The feast takes plenty of preparation, with donations of both food, time and cooking skills donated by the third grade parents from St. Dominic.
“They came in [Sunday] and set up the room,” said Bathmann. “They cooked all the meals. They spent the weekend and the morning preparing for this great event.”
After the feast, which included turkey, stuffing and all the trimmings, plus plenty of pies, brownies and cupcakes for desert, the remaining food is donated to the FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean counties.
The feast, organizers and students agree, is a family affair.
“Thanksgiving is about family, for everyone,” said Zack, a Harbor student. “And this feels like a family together.”
[box type=”shadow” align=”” class=”” width=””]The Schools