Spectrum Big Brothers Kicks Off Another Year

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The Prep hosts a wide variety of service clubs and opportunities for its students to partake in. One of these fantastic programs is Spectrum Big Brothers, previously called Autism Big Brothers. Each Thursday in both the Fall and Spring, this extracurricular activity has students of Seton Hall taking a bus up to Academy 360, a high school specialized in the education of children, adolescents, young adults and adults on the autism spectrum and with behavioral and related disabilities. While there, students of both Seton Hall Prep and Academy 360 get to spend time together in a welcoming and amiable environment. They bond and form meaningful relationships together, engaging in different activities such as sports and games, cooking, and photography, all ran by the caring and experienced Academy 360 staff.

Like all good service organizations, Spectrum Big Brothers provides a wide scope of benefits, both to students of The Prep and of Academy 360. Mrs. Hesse, who directs Spectrum Big Brothers from the Academy 360 side of things and has been working at the school for 33 years, noted just how much their students enjoyed the time spent with members of SHP, and how much they look forward to it every Thursday. She also remarked about how it gives Seton Hall’s students a great opportunity to be role models, which Mrs. Rondinella of Campus Ministry also noted. Mrs. Rondinella, who runs the program here at The Prep and drives to the bus to Academy 360, expressed her appreciation for the program and how happy she is to be a part of it. She also offered a unique and interesting insight. In an interview, she stated “It’s also a benefit for our students to be able to share some of their own talents… that making teams and being in clubs is not the only way to share your talents, that you can do it with the less fortunate as well.” This is a fantastic reminder to the students here at Seton Hall Prep that not only can our gifts help others, but that we also should be keeping our minds open for new ways in which we can do that.

Mrs. Rondinella also described the program as “a real eye-opener for our students,” emphasizing how Spectrum Big Brothers can teach students of Seton Hall Prep about the wide variety of ways people interact and behave. This is especially true, not only referring to those who are on the spectrum, but also just having students of SHP being exposed to another high school unique to their own, and witnessing a different school’s culture, values and lessons. Also, Mrs. Rondinella, along with many other volunteers in the program to be sure, was touched by the high level of intelligence that the Academy 360 students demonstrated. She even retold a very moving story to me about one of the students she met. Mrs. Rondinella told this boy her birthday, and years later, after the boy had left the program, he still continued to remember it and to wish her a happy birthday. 

I was lucky enough to speak with Mrs. Hesse too, who expressed much gratitude for the program and the volunteers from Seton Hall. She described the activity as “invaluable” and also mentioned how it has served as a catalyst for Academy360’s other neuro-typical integration programs, called Teen Excursion Clubs(TECs). Other than Seton Hall Prep, they have partnered with Livingston High School, Montclair Kimberly Academy, and Mt. Saint Dominic and those clubs continue to be stronger than ever. 

And it seems that there are only more good things in the future for Spectrum Big Brothers. Just this year, a whole new wing has been added on to the side of the school, which has an entirely new gym. The gym has been being used for the sports and games unit in Spectrum Big Brothers, and everyone is loving it and making full use of all it has to offer. Surely, Spectrum Big Brothers has been a widely successful program, both at Seton Hall Prep and at Academy 360, and with new members from both schools being present in the program this year, the future is looking very bright for this organization.