Maplewood Schools / Kids South Orange Towns

‘Grads Return’ Is a Game Changer for Columbia High School Students

Grads Return 2014
Photo credit: Scott Cohen

Five years ago, Columbia High School science teacher Allan Tumolillo started “Grads Return” — a program where recent graduates home for winter break visit the high school and tell current students about their experiences at college or in the workplace.

The first year brought nine graduates for three panels. Between 180-200 students participated.

Yesterday, Grads Return brought 60 graduate speakers into Columbia High School for 20 panels. The number of attendees well exceeded the school’s student population with more than 2,700 attendees (many students attended multiple panels) — double last year’s attendance. Panel topics included Arts, Business/Marketing, Community College, Military Careers, Campus Safety and Health, Social Studies/Law, STEM – Medical, STEM – Computer Science, Study Abroad, What to Major In, Work/Study, Sports, Journalism, and Design.

Business teacher Scott Cohen helped Tumolillo put the Grads Return program together this year with the help of department supervisors and the support of Principal Elizabeth Aaron; Assistant Principals Cheryl Hewitt, Michael Healy, and Charles Ezell; and Director of Athletics Larry Busichio.

Faculty also helped, creating and facilitating many panels. For example, Physical Education/Health Department teachers Toni Martinez and Lisa DelliSanti put together a program on “Safety on College Campuses,” a topic discussed in health classes.

“I hope students attending all the different panels got something out of it,” wrote Tumolillo in an email. He also expressed the hope that “sitting in the audience today were future speakers at Grads Return.”

Tumolillo explained that the idea of Grads Return isn’t about the typical nostalgia of alumni programs. Rather, it is “to help build community between our students and those who have moved on to college” and to “have the grads feel responsibility to help the students here. This is now starting to succeed, and I hope we can continue this program.”

Clearly, many graduates have embraced this roll. “They viewed it as an honor and many lobbied to be speakers at the event,” wrote Tumolillo. “In fact, many ‘extra grads’ showed up and volunteered to help.”

“You can tell that many of our grads really do think highly of Columbia, enjoyed their time here and want to share their experiences with today’s students.”

Most importantly, the program seems to have a significant impact on current students. Special education teacher Robin Patton called Grads Return a “game changer” for some of her students.

“I particularly like it because of it’s appeal to all students,” said Patton. “The panels and speakers do not speak to or about an elite experience, but cover ground that appeals to the diverse set of students we have in the building.”

“It was great seeing so many kids back in the building after the event to reconnect with faculty and staff,” said social studies teacher Phil McCormick. “It feels like a ‘family reunion’ seeing past graduates.”

McCormick continued, “This is a great initiative; great for our alumni to reflect on what they are doing, and great for our current students to see what their CHS ‘siblings’ are doing!”

View the photo gallery below; click on any photo to start. Photo credits: CHS Teacher Scott D. Cohen.

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