Southeast Journeys Launches Club Program to Encourage Learning, Leadership, and Social Skills

By Meghan Vivo

Social clubs are an excellent way to get young people with Asperger’s, high-functioning autism, and learning disabilities involved in social activities they enjoy. Southeast Journeys, a semester-long school program for adolescents ages 13-17 with Asperger’s syndrome, high-functioning autism, nonverbal learning disorder, and similar disorders, recently launched a club program to enhance students’ social and life skills.

The students at Southeast Journeys participate in clubs one hour per week, organized into groups of seven or eight boys and girls of varying ages and backgrounds. The following is a sampling of the clubs offered at Southeast Journeys (for a full description, visit www.aspergersboardingschools.com/joining-a-club.html):

Yearbook Club. Members of the yearbook club plan, organize, and design the school’s yearbook each semester. Student activities range from taking photographs around campus and on off-campus trips to seeking advertisements from local organizations in the community. In past years, the students have created a DVD yearbook, made up of a slideshow of photographs of each student and staff member as well as shots of the memorable activities that occurred throughout the semester. The school also hosts contests that allow students to design their own yearbook cover, complete with a quotation, title, and drawing, with one lucky winner receiving his picture on the cover. Yearbook club is a great way to memorialize the Southeast Journeys experience and learn photography, writing, and organizational skills that can be used in life beyond Southeast Journeys.

Wilderness Club. Wilderness club is designed for students with an affinity for the great outdoors. In addition to the week-long experiential learning trips and wilderness adventures that all Southeast Journeys students enjoy, students in wilderness club spend an extra hour each week learning how to live in nature.Beginning with a variety of educational sessions on safety skills, cooking over a campfire, staying warm and dry, and other primitive skills, students then participate in hands-on explorations in the field, play games, and get to know other students who are passionate about the wilderness. Through the wilderness club experience, students are even more prepared and excited to participate in the school’s off-campus trips.

Cooking/Gardening Club. This club gives students an opportunity to learn about healthy living through hands-on experience in the garden and in the kitchen. From table manners, safety skills, and food handling and preparation to the basics of operating a dishwasher and setting the table, students in cooking/gardening club learn their way around the kitchen, with direction and oversight from the school’s kitchen manager. During the warmer months, students help grow their own herb and vegetable garden, participating in soil cultivation, weeding, and harvesting crops which can be used in preparing meals for the entire student body.

“We take a strength-based approach that honors our students’ special interests while also introducing them to new activities and people,” says Zack Eden, who helps coordinate the club program at Southeast Journeys. “These clubs give them a chance to express themselves, explore their special talents and abilities, and apply the life skills they’ve learned at school.”

According to Eden, the clubs are the highlight of the week for many students. “They run up to their group leader, beaming with pride for their accomplishments and anxious to share what they have learned and created, whether it’s a photo they took, a wilderness skill they mastered, or even running the dishwasher on their own. One hour after the club meeting ends, the students are already anticipating next week’s club activity.”

Students are also proud to share their accomplishments with their families. At parents’ weekend, Southeast Journeys students showcase what they have learned and produced at school and in clubs, and their work is also featured in the yearbook each semester.

Unlike school, which teaches young people the information they need to know but that they may not be particularly interested in, club programs are a chance for students to learn about subjects that genuinely interest them and make them feel excited about and engaged in life. Because they’re sincerely interested, they pay attention and are even more motivated to learn, which is particularly helpful when it comes to learning organizational, leadership, and life skills.

At the same time, the students are interacting with peers of different ages in varied settings, which creates an opportunity for powerful new life experiences. For kids who don’t always feel like they fit in, clubs can be a refuge where they interact with other kids with similar interests and can explore the topics of greatest interest to them.

Clubs create a hands-on learning environment in which young people with Asperger’s and high-functioning autism can practice their self-regulation and leadership skills and take a few risks socially, without worrying about grades, job performance, or other pressures. Students are challenged socially as they learn to navigate relationships within the club organization, which translates well into other structured social environments such as work, their home school, scouting organizations, and other settings.

Based on its success, the club program at Southeast Journeys will continue to expand as the school grows, and the staff will continue to offer new opportunities structured around students’ interests. For more information about Southeast Journeys school program or the many benefits of social clubs for young people with Asperger’s, high-functioning autism, or related disorders, call (888) 458-8226 or visit www.aspergersboardingschools.com/social.html.