Bishop Ludden students bring Camillus seniors “back to school”

By Anthony hinkelman
SUN contributing writer

It may be graduation season, but Bishop Ludden Junior-Senior High School had its first official “Back To School” event with its neighbor, The Centers at St. Camillus. The event was a learning experience for both seniors and students.

According to John Bruzdzinski, the assistant principal at Bishop Ludden, this is the first year for the program, though a pilot program was launched last year on a smaller scale.

St. Camillus residents went back to school, either for the Wednesday or Friday event, to interact with the students, which created a refreshing inter-generational experience for everyone involved.

According to Bruzdzinski, students were selected based on their class performance, with only the best being allowed to oversee the seniors.

“It’s a privilege to be able to take part in the event,” said Bruzdzinski, “It’s not just providing a service, but an eye-opening experience,” he said. “You experience a life in someone else’s shoes that you would never have experienced before.”

Bishop Ludden students grouped two or three at a time to provide company and conversation to their partner and bring them to whatever classes they had that day.

St. Camillus resident, Cheryl Jones, 53, started the day early with sophomores Nicole Llove and Emily Wheeler. Jones, who usually prefers to sleep in, surprised the St. Camillus staff when she woke up early to eat breakfast and participate in the program.

“The students are absolutely wonderful,” she said. Jones joined Llove and Wheeler in classes such as religion and physical education, where she acted as a cheerleader through a game of softball.

Compared to her days in high school, Jones said, “[Students] are offered a lot more, which is wonderful.”

Ozzie Minasian, a 93 year-old war veteran, teamed up with students Joe Trenca, Ruben Rosado and Jack Rauch, all seventh graders, to revisit math, science, and English classes.

Minasian wore an Uncle Sam-themed hat in preparation for Memorial Day — it’s one of 150 funny hats from his collection. He had maintained the collection prior to living at St. Camillus and adds to it as family and St. Camillus staff continue to give him more.

Angela Scaffido, 66, came back to school, eager to learn again. Scaffido sat in on religion, health and other classes.

“I felt like I was part of the class, not just an onlooker,” she said. Scaffido, however, is familiar with the classroom setting as she still continues her education. She has been learning Spanish for a year at St. Camillus where it’s taught on Fridays.

“I took Spanish to see if I can still learn,” she said. Bingo is even held on those days in Spanish for those fluent in it.

“We try to fill their time with a purpose,” explained Mary Ellen Steele, Director of Recreation Services at St. Camillus. Aside from Spanish class, St. Camillus keeps its residents active with numerous activities from memory classes to Skychiefs baseball games.

“We strive to do different things to make activities fun and interesting,” said Steele.

For the staff, every moment is fun. “I love coming to work everyday,” said Michele Rivoli, Director of Marketing, Communications and Public Relations for St. Camillus. Rivoli joked at how her husband wished he lived at the center, as senior citizens there have more to do in a week than he does.

Last summer, ‘50s-themed rock band Sha Na Na visited the residents for a private concert after their New York State Fair performance upon Rivoli’s request.

Involvement between Bishop Ludden and St. Camillus started with small projects or visits. St. Camillus residents would attend the school’s musical productions and sporting events. The “Back to School” event started in the same manner, with casual visits and involvement.

According to Bruzdzinski, students have mandatory community service assigned per grade level. Opportunities for this naturally led to St. Camillus, located right next door. From there, events like “Back to School” and “‘Senior’ Senior Prom” developed.

“‘Senior’ Senior Prom,” held just a few weeks ago, involved students dressing up and bringing the prom to St. Camillus, where a room was essentially “transformed” into a prom scene according to Steele.

“It was very fun to be able to see,” she said, “the girls came in prom dresses … [and] wheeled [the residents] around to the music.” The music included oldies suited to the residents as well as some modern songs for the students.

“All the residents were really appreciative,” said Christiana “Bella” Knapp, a senior at Bishop Ludden attending the event.

“Their faces would light up,” she said. “It was just an hour but they loved it. It opened my eyes to see what it’s like for them and how much it affected them.” Afterward, according to Danielle Luibrand, a recreations staff member for St. Camillus, residents had their pictures taken at the event and put them in their rooms with their handmade corsages next to them.

Events like these have bonded the high school and nursing home.

“It’s a fantastic school,” said St. Camillus resident Natalie Sabloski, “The kids are so well behaved … and all so beautiful.”

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