PACC Adult Launches Social Skills Group
by Sonia Ruivo
It’s no secret that some students struggle with social skills. Learning online during the pandemic did not help students develop social skills since they did not have the same opportunity to engage with classmates.
PACC Adult Education Special Education Technicians Kristina Tellier and Melissa Wallach noticed the lack of social skills and decided to tackle the issue head-on and start a social skills group. They had a list of neuro-divergent students whom they felt could benefit from attending the group. As soon as pandemic restrictions were lifted and students headed back to in person classes, they approached the students and pitched the idea of the group as an opportunity to build their communication and social skills and meet new friends. All the students they approached were very receptive and have shown up every week to work on their social skills.
According to Melissa, “we have students here who are on the autism spectrum or who just have a difficult time making friends, have a conversation, or know what to say in a conversation. We saw a need and we felt we could help them build these life skills.”
The group meets once a week at lunch. Melissa and Kristina wanted the group to be inclusive and helpful and created a structure and weekly objectives. The weekly meetings quickly grew, and by week four, there were students waiting outside the classroom for the group to start.
Kristina and Melissa know that students need more than academic skills. They need transferable skills. As Kristina said, “I love seeing our students learn and practice non-academic skills that they can practice and transfer outside of school.”
Each meeting follows the same format. At the start of each meeting, Melissa and Kristina welcome everyone and thank them for coming. They offer students a snack or treat. Not surprisingly, snacks and treats are very popular. Who can say no to a cookie? They give an opportunity to each student to share something about their weekend or their day. Once the introductions are done, it’s time for the weekly activity. They model the activity, for example how to use conversation starters when having a conversation with a classmate or friend. Students are paired off and are given an opportunity to practice. Everyone listens and gives positive feedback. Then, it’s time for a quick board game before heading back to class.
The social skills group has greatly benefited students who are not only learning new skills, but also increasing their self-confidence. New friendships have formed. They have animated discussions about hobbies and what movies and video games are their favorites. Kristina and Melissa love seeing the happy smiles and new friendships blossom.
The group will continue to meet until the end of June and will restart in the fall. Like they always do, Melissa and Kristina will seek out students who need additional support and will approach these new students to join the group so that they might benefit from learning basic conversation and social skills.