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Reconnect RVC encourages students to unplug

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Technology has pros and cons. With the prevalence of tablets, phones and other online devices, children can conveniently connect to the virtual world. Yet as a result of that screen time, many struggle in real life. Reconnect RVC, which was launched in 2018 by a group of local elementary-school teachers, is bringing its program to the John A. Anderson Recreation Center to teach elementary and middle school students how to communicate and socialize without their devices.

“Communication has become a lost art,” said Ryan McDermott, a Reconnect RVC instructor and co-founder.

McDermott, a former one-on-one aide at Watson Elementary School, started the program with Melissa Rice, a fifth-grade teacher at Watson; Joseph Gallina, a fourth-grade teacher at Covert Elementary; and Steve Mariano, a phys. ed. teacher at Watson.

“We were in the middle of an assembly, and we could tell the speaker was trying to engage the kids — and they appeared to have no communication skills,” McDermott said. “We collectively noticed there is a problem.”

The phenomenon has been a “slow creep,” according to McDermott, who is now an entrepreneur. “And in the last two to three years, it came to a head,” he said. “The students are not capable of looking you in the eye, asking questions or engaging in conversation.”

The four owners and instructors, who collectively have more than 50 years of experience teaching in elementary schools, came up with a plan to tackle the problem. They identified skills that many children lacked — including how to start a conversation, how to form their own opinions, how to lose and how to effectively communicate feelings in times of strife — and developed the program. The Reconnect RVC classes focus on teamwork, team building and communication, stressing the importance of skills such as eye contact and active listening. A new session starts this week for Game Time, geared toward third- to fifth-graders, and Debate for grades three to five or six to eight.

“These activities are created to foster communication, model collegiality and hold students to high standards,” McDermott said, “all without access to technology.”

Since the program’s inception, it has grown and expanded, and according to McDermott, the response from the community has been positive.

“We’ve gotten unanimously positive feedback,” McDermott said. “And some kids have told us how they use the skills they learned in the debate class to either answer questions in school or handle an argument with a friend or classmate.”

The elementary students work on team building through the program, playing interactive games that promote working together to achieve a common goal. The activities require talking to one another, a basic life skill that children seem to lack. “It’s pretty cool to see and it’s cool to see how they’ve grown,” McDermott said.

Students and parents also attest to the strength of the program.

“It’s an awesome way to make friends while doing a variety of fun games and activities,” said Avery Dodd, a Watson School fifth-grader.

It was “an amazing experience,” her mother, Chrissy Dodd, said. “Each time, she has had so much fun while learning to be strategic, a problem solver and building relationships with her peers.”

The classes, in addition to improving communication skills, likely have health benefits as well, according to McDermott, as they engage the children socially and encourage physical movement. Gallina leads a sports night, which offers a more relaxed coaching style than if the young people were playing on a competitive team. The goal is to get children active, provide a release and promote life skills.

“Some of the kids that come to us don’t want to fully invest in a league where they have to play on this basketball team for eight weeks,” Gallina said. “So for them to come one night to just play basketball with their friends, they enjoy that. They’re learning life skills while having a good time.”

“It’s a very well-structured program,” Anthony Magaraci said, noting that his son is eager to sign up again.

Reconnect RVC initially held classes in the St. Mark’s Cooperative Nursery School gymnasium, but moved to the recreation center because of increased interest. McDermott noted that, while other communities have approached the organization for its services, the four founders feel strongly about keeping it in Rockville Centre. However, they are willing to provide workshops offsite for local groups, such as sports teams or scouts, which McDermott said has also been successful.

Amy Morovich said she scheduled a program with Reconnect RVC for Girl Scout Troop 834. “They came so prepared and pumped to get our girls working together and motivated,” Morovich said. “The team building activities they planned really helped our girls collaborate together, communicate, trust each other and cheer each other on. They had such a great time, they didn’t want their time to end.”

For more information on classes and programs, visit reconnectrvc.com.