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Business is Booming for Pennridge Life Skills Class

By Erin DuBois
Associate Editor

Pennridge student Tyleyia Cassel loads paper into a laminating machine in Pennridge High School's Life Skills class, which runs a business called 'That's a Wrap.' Staff photos by KEN ZEPP.

While the nation’s economic slump persists, business is booming in the Pennridge High School Life Skills class.

From the “That’s a Wrap” line of stationary to the “Sunrise Café” coffee shop, these entrepreneurial students are cultivating valuable skills both on the job and in the community.

Life skills support teacher Maria Gannon designed classroom business endeavors with the needs of her students who have already graduated in mind.

Students in life skills support classes, all of whom have some form of mild mental retardation, can remain in school through 21 years of age, teacher Maria Gannon said.

While in school, students are fully supported through the school district, and losing these services after they turn 21 can be difficult for both students and their parents.

The goal is for all students to find competitive employment with job support services in the community instead of going to a sheltered workshop, but because of the poor economy, many work at volunteer jobs or attend a day program. Day programs tend to continually be at full capacity, and students often have to wait until someone leaves before there is room for them to attend, according to Gannon.

More parents are opting to keep their children in school after they officially graduate at the age of 18, and Gannon said that she wanted to give these students “a more real life experience.”

Two class periods per day are devoted to job activities where the students work in their various classroom businesses or perform tasks throughout the school building. “The Office Mates” offers photocopying, shredding, collating, envelop stuffing, tri-folding and labeling services to others in the building.

Students deliver packages to teachers and treats to the classrooms, taking orders for chocolate chip cookies twice a week and bringing them to the students before class begins.
At “The Plant Stand,” students are currently planting bulbs to sell for Easter and Mother’s Day. They potted house plants in the fall, with faculty and staff donating pots from their summer plantings, and held a huge plant sale after Christmas break, Gannon said.

The Souderton Home Depot donated numerous bags of bulbs after Gannon’s frequent 6 a.m. visits to purchase potting soil aroused the curiosity of one Home Depot employee.

Gannon developed the concept for “That’s a Wrap” while trying to find a job for one student with cerebral palsy who uses a wheelchair.

The solution came when a job coach from the Bucks County Intermediate Unit introduced her to a paper-cutting machine called the Cricut. Pediatric Therapeutic Services, which provides occupational therapy and physical therapy to many of Gannon’s students, donated a Cricut machine to the class.

Students can program the Cricut with the push of a button to perforate a variety of designs into card stock. Once the machine releases the perforated sheet, students peel the shapes off the sticky backing.

The project develops fine motor skills and allows students at various levels of motor functioning to participate. Those who are unable to peel off the shapes stamp a logo on the back of the cards with a pre-printed stamp.

Student Christina Moister said that making cards for “That’s a Wrap” is her favorite job activity, even though peeling the shapes off the backing paper can be difficult. She said that she enjoys sorting the finished cards into categories — no small task since the students make a wide variety of cards, including birthday, sympathy and get-well cards.

With a $500 grant from the Pennridge Community Education Foundation for supplies, Gannon’s class is building up its inventory in order to have a ready supply of cards for all occasions. Besides greeting cards, they make wrapping paper, gift bags and tags, invitations, announcements and chocolate party favors.

Although it has mainly sold cards to faculty and parents so far, plans are under way for a card kiosk in the cafeteria.

Business proceeds go directly back to the students, allowing them to participate in Community Based Instruction free of charge to their parents.

The purpose of CBI is to teach students how to act appropriately in a number of community settings, building practical skills in areas such as handling monetary transactions, according to Gannon.

The class has gone grocery shopping, bowling, and mini-golfing, and Gannon is planning a girls’ day out to get their nails done.

Instead of asking the parents for money, the school district provides transportation and the class pays for its own activities.

Student Tyleyia Cassel said that the class went to the mall to buy Christmas presents for their families.

“We like to do things for others,” Gannon said.

Pediatric Therapeutic Services is located at 525 Fayette St., Conshohocken. For more information, call 610-941-7792.