A YMCA swim instructor praises a student for a job well done in the pool. 

Toms River Regional Schools, YMCA Partner to Teach Life Skills

Rachel Barry, who teaches special education classes for 18- to 21-year olds at High School East, watched with pride on Monday as the Toms River Young Adults (TRYA) program that she re-envisioned and reinvigorated took place at the Ocean County YMCA.

“TRYA is helping to prepare our young adults for life after they leave Toms River Schools,” Barry said. “We are fostering independence through community engagement, life skills practice, and exposure to healthy activity involvement.”

The program has, in fact, been running successfully at the Y since September. It’s a life skills initiative with a mission to provide a real-world environment for young adults to build healthy routines, develop productive social interactions, adopt a positive self image, collaborate with peers, and much more. A similar program had existed years ago within the district, but halted due to lack of funding. TRYA, and its core partnership with OCYMCA, was made possible thanks to a generous donation from the Wintrode Family Foundation.

Barry made inroads with David Wintrode at the Foundation who, after pledging his support and connecting Barry with the YMCA, set her on a path to making her dream a reality for her students. She developed her team, held meetings with YMCA Interim CEO Gretchen Insole, embarked on site tours of the Y, sought and received Toms River Board of Education support and approval, and made it happen. Barry’s colleague, Karen Shaughnessy, also an 18-21 special education teacher at HSE, is her project partner.

“I am very excited to be a part of this program and to team up with Rachel,” said Shaughnessy. “The students greatly enjoy going to the YMCA, and it gives many of them an opportunity to experience different activities that they wouldn't otherwise be able to. There is plenty of opportunity for the students to grow, learn, and participate.”

Students travel together every Monday to the Y, where they work in small, rotating groups of 4-6, accompanied by two paraprofessionals. They eat lunch together, and receive guidance on developing important life skills in a real-world setting. Ingrained in the work are lessons on health, hygiene, and safety, and this work also involves some serious fun. On a monthly basis, students receive 45 minutes each of yoga instruction, a group workout with a YMCA fitness instructor, and group swim instructions with lessons on water safety.

“The donation has allowed the YMCA to supply our group with the fitness instructor, yoga instructor, swim instructor, private lanes in the pool with two additional life guards, all yoga equipment, and an individual towel for each student,” said Barry. “We also received a donation of gym bags for students to carry their bathing suits, clothing, towels and lunches to and from school.”

Monday was cause for celebration, a chance to acknowledge all those who helped make the Toms River Young Adults program happen, and to witness the fun and fulfillment being experienced by TRRS students.

“We are so thankful and extremely excited to offer this amazing opportunity to our students,” Barry said. 

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