What better way to celebrate the season than with some holiday tunes? On December 21, 2023, approximately 30 students of North Rockland High School’s ACCESS program stopped by Haverstraw Town Hall to perform a selection of Christmas carols for the enjoyment of town employees.
North Rockland’s ACCESS, which stands for Adaptive Curriculum for Community Experiences and Social Skills, aims to prepare students with intellectual disabilities with the practical skills needed to function and thrive outside of high school.
“One of the things we work on is social skills—being able to talk to other people, go into places and have a conversation,” said Peter Zecchin, one of the three main teachers for ACCESS. “So we thought one of the good ways to (practice that) during the holidays was Christmas caroling…We thought it would be a nice time to spread some holiday cheer.”
Zecchin explained that the 36-member ACCESS program is divided into three separate sections, with the remaining two being taught by Kristina Sidei and Katie Cosman. While all three classes place a focus on functional academics, Zecchin specializes in helping students build the skills necessary to thrive in and outside a school setting, such as money management and home maintenance. Sidei then guides students in refining their professional skills and interests, while Cosman facilitates opportunities to work in the community through organizations like BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Services).
Because ACCESS provides alternative assessment rather than the standard New York Regents diploma, students are permitted to participate in the program from age 14 to 21. This allows them to spend multiple years in one class based on the student’s own unique needs.
Caroling at Town Hall
To prepare for their performance at Haverstraw Town Hall, ACCESS students spent nearly four weeks rehearsing the carols. These included classic wintertime hits such as “Frosty the Snowman,” “Winter Wonderland,” “Jingle Bells” and “Feliz Navidad.” Zecchin led his own class in singing the songs to wind down each day, integrating skills of focus and listening.
When the day came to share their songs with Town Hall employees, he was happy to report that both the students and town employees—many of whom were singing along—were merry and bright.
“We work on reading comprehension skills, we work on listening,” Zecchin explained, referring to his ACCESS class. “Seeing these skills really come to fruition when it comes to being able to keep up with the pace of the music, being able to sing aloud, not getting distracted in a large crowd, being able to sing to people and strangers…Sometimes kids are scared of big crowds. Being able to go into Town Hall and sing to a group of strangers—I think that’s one of the best stories you can tell.”