Disabled students learn life lessons with holiday craft sale
Michelle Mink sometimes struggles to learn and do things other people take for granted, but she was busy Wednesday preparing for a holiday craft sale on the campus of Brainerd High School.
"I got to walk with my class, but I have to make up a few credits," said Mink, an 18-year-old disabled woman from Pine River who has not graduated from high school.
Mink is in the Paul Bunyan Transition Plus program for adult students with disabilities, ages 18 to 21, in the Paul Bunyan Education Cooperative. She wants to be a cosmetologist some day.
"I like that I get to learn a lot of hands-on things at job sites, or we'll go out to budget for food for our family-style meals on Fridays," said Mink, who is now more confident in her abilities. "You learn basically how to live on your own, and school doesn't really teach you that."
Paul Bunyan Transition Plus began in 2006 and includes a student greenhouse, where they work in teams to plant and care for various plants and flowers. The program hosts a plant sale in the spring in which disabled students learn about exchanging money, customer service and planning.
"It can be intellectual, emotional, behavioral, physical. We just kind of put it all under kind of one umbrella and just say 'with disabilities,'" said program coordinator Kati Reynolds. "It's all through the school district and these are all students that receive special education services."
Reynolds and 15 students in the transition program made or assembled holiday decor and gifts for the program's holiday craft sale 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Friday at 224 Quince St.
Those who attend the event can enjoy complimentary cookies, coffee and hot apple cider while shopping at the craft sale.
"By far, what I enjoy most is helping students achieve their transition goals and see them accomplish their goals that they have. The two biggest aspects of our program that we work on is employment, and home and daily living skills," Reynolds said.
Most of the students have completed their high school education and are taking the next step into adulthood. The Paul Bunyan Education Cooperative includes the Aitkin, Brainerd, Crosby-Ironton, Pequot Lakes, Pillager and Pine River-Backus school districts.
"It's kind of that bridge between high school and adult life," Reynolds said of the program, which includes instructional activities on home or daily living, community participation, recreation and leisure, employment, and postsecondary education and training.
"This is an individualized program for the student. Some students are here for one year, some are here for three years, and depending upon their age, I've actually had a student or two be here for four years," Reynolds said.
"It's a federal law that school districts have to provide education, birth to 21, if deemed necessary and appropriate."
Students in the transition program also manage a school store called "Made Especially for You," which consists of items created by the students, who are responsible for recordkeeping, pricing, planning, customer service and handling money.
"We also do volunteer work-based learning sites, so some of our students go into community service, community businesses that allow us to go in, and my students volunteer their time to learn job skills," Reynolds said.
Common Goods, Crow Wing County Highway Department, The Teehive and Edgewood Vista are just some site examples, and some of her students have accepted jobs at Cub Foods, Super One Foods and Culver's to name a few.
"Many of our students will leave our doors with employment, and that's usually one of the greatest moments as an educator and just seeing them learn the necessary skills to be a successful adult and be a productive member of society," Reynolds said.
Students will also be selling "reindeer bars" for $3 each at Friday's craft sale, which are chocolate bars in reindeer-themed wrappers and can be ordered at 218-454-5395.
"The students trace the antlers—they cut them out—they measure the twine, they make them into the bows, they cut apart all the leaves and then berries and then we assemble them," Reynolds said.
The proceeds are reinvested into the program and basically cover the cost of the supplies used to create the items available at the 10th annual holiday craft sale Friday.
"We don't do it for a profit or anything, but just for the process," Reynolds said. "We have a cash register. The students can practice their customer service skills and all that kind of stuff."