Thursday, March 5, 2009

Something a Little Special

I have mentioned in previous posts, that my oldest daughter, Sarah, has special needs. She has been out of school for almost 4 years now (that seems impossible!). Her high school transition class develops skills to use post-high school.

The problem, to me, is finding areas to utilize these skills once the kids get out of school. Indiana has not done a very good job of funding programs for post-high school kids and a lot of them end up sitting at home with nothing to do. I think this is terribly sad.

Sarah has several jobs. One of her favorites, is volunteering in our high school transition class each and every school morning at La Sals. (Sals is an acronym for Something A Little Special--we just added the "La" to make it sound fancy!).

La Sals is a coffee shop in our high school. It is run by the special needs transition class and has volunteers from general education students, as well. We serve Starbucks coffee, lattes and cappuccinos, sweet tea, hot tea (lots of flavors to choose from), and hot chocolate. The students are served until the first bell rings and then faculty can place orders for delivery during the rest of the day.

I love watching how the transformation from the beginning of the school year to the end of the school year is for these special kids. The self-confidence they develop is just amazing. Something else that is truly amazing is how much more it has helped our special kids become accepted at school. That was a side-effect we didn't expect when we began this project 2 years ago.

We weren't allowed to "paint" the walls, so we just used the same technique that we did on the other walls to create a tile effect...the "tiles" are actually textured wallpaper squares.

One of the aides in the classroom is awesome at faux-finish painting...see our exposed "brick" walls?

The other classes jumped right on this project...the industrial tech class cut stuff to hide electrical posts and came up with ideas to help with lighting, signing, etc.

The entrepreneurial class did a business plan for us and those kids initially helped out to get the project up and running.

When we received the go-ahead from the administration, we were warned that we had to come up with our own funding. It is amazing how many items were donated for our cause.

Tables were donated by a local businessman and the chairs, which are all mis-matched have all been painted black.

As funding for schools in general is very tight, the teacher has been very creative in ways to fund projects for her class. When my daughter was in middle school, they started making gingerbread ornaments. I thought, okay, I'll buy these ornaments to help support the cause (I wasn't really that keen on the idea). Then, I saw how cool they were and bought tons of them. It was suggested that the class set up at the local Christmas Bazaar that fall. They had a stellar day and needless to say, a tradition began.

The kids don't make as many gingerbread ornaments as they used to and their projects have evolved over the years. Currently, with the jewelry craze, the kids put together jewelry. Girls will bring in their prom dresses to have jewelry custom-designed to match. Sterling silver and swarvoski crystals are used. The classroom aides will come up with a design and the kids will copy it.

Here are some ID card beaded chains and earrings on display (the shutters were also donated) in the classroom. Some mornings, a teacher or student might come in and say they forgot to put on their earrings, and buy a pair to go with their outfit!

The librarian had been to Italy and had taken photos of streets. She brought the photos in for us to see...immediately we thought the industrial tech class could help again....they enlarged the photos, they've been mounted behind windows, a teacher who can sew made awnings, and our "windows" look out onto italian streets!

Occasionally, we have teachers from other school districts hear about our project and visit this classroom to see what all has been done and to see if they can replicate it in their own transition classes. It takes a dedicated teacher (she comes in at 7:00 a.m. every morning, and we're usually there right after) to get everything started and have ready for the kids to serve at 7:30...she is not paid extra for coming in. It takes good volunteers to pull this off too! But, since my daughter and I were in on this project from the very beginning, there is no way we want to stop helping. It's our baby too!

I must admit, this is not a very flattering picture, but my youngest daughter, Katie, her friend, and the teacher's son (he doesn't normally wear a tie to school, there was a basketball game that night and the team members must dress up during the day!) help out every single morning. We have one special needs student who is able to come in to help...she was most likely in the cafeteria drumming up business when this picture was taken! The kids our our high school must give 40 hours of community service as part of their graduation requirement. These 3 kids have come in every single morning this year...and we calculated they reached their 40-hour minimum in October! I really think they enjoy helping and occasionally, when we're at home, Katie asks me if I'd like a hot chocolate-- let me just say, she can make a mean cuppa cocoa! (Our secret is using Swiss Miss with milk instead of water--the kids think this is the best hot chocolate they've ever had!) Of course, we make specialty cocoas with Starbucks syrups. My favorite is with hazelnut and then add chocolate shavings and carmel bits to the dollop of whipped cream! (No calories in this!)
It's amazing that with a little bit of encouragement, these kids can do some really cool stuff they can be proud of! This classroom certainly lives up to its motto "Changing disabilities into possibilities"!


Donna said...

It sounds like you've created a wonderful place for these kids to work. I have a special needs daughter too who is 24. We're from NJ, where they have good services for disabled people but my husband has taken a job in Indy and we're trying to get our house sold in NJ. I'm really sorry to hear that IN doesn't have good services, I've been trying to find out about that but it's kind of hard to find out the way it really is. I'd love to know more about what IN offers to people like our daughters.

Glad I found your blog!


vintage chic mom said...

Donna, I'm glad you found my blog, "Country Life in Indiana" too! I have been unable to access your blog from here... feel free to send me an email directly and we'll "talk". While services here are certainly lacking, we still love our state. Welcome to Indiana! You can email me directly at

Talk to you soon.

imjacobsmom said...

This sounds like an absolutely wonderful project for everyone involved. I bet this would prosper in my sons high school as well. Our next PTA meeting is in a few weeks and I would like to suggest this. ~ Robyn

Anne Marie said...

THANK YOU for helping others...not thinking of yourself....sacrificing who you your vocation as mother/teacher/leader and giving your children a good example.

Wonderful post- and a stellar (sp?)
job on the little store...
very creative.

Cindy@Cutepinkstuff said...

Fantastic! It really does take "a village." Your school has taken a great idea and turned it into a wonderful fundraiser. I love that so many people have pitched in. La Sals looks so professional, too! Thanks for stopping by to see my crocheted flowers and sewing box which I shall now call my "yarn barn" thanks to you!!!!