At Rawlinson Middle School there was a need to create a sustainable employ-ability program that encompassed and encouraged practical life skills for our Special Education Students with our Alternative Learning Environment. Most of our students within the Special Education, ALE classrooms will never have the opportunity to attend a college but are still capable of full time employment. Creating an innovative program that the students could initiate from start to finish while in Middle School would give them the confidence they would need going into High School programs. This need would also help fill gaps with hands on real world experience that most of our students miss out on during their middle school years. The program promotes independence, social skills, a strong community within our school and offers a glimpse into self-employment.
The goal for this project was to create a sustainable employability program that started to prepare our students for functional and fundamental life skills after High School. The project will continue to support itself from the proceeds of its current sales. The project also created an opportunity to invite local businesses to partner with the school through advertising and community reinvestment acts while seeking out positive media exposure. Our students are beginning to develop industry and financial discernment. They understand the importance of being on time for a job, clocking in and out, getting paid and managing a budget (very small budget).
This project idea was mentioned to a parent at the beginning of the school year. A week later she asked how they could help get it off the ground and make it happen. A grant proposal had been written to the NISD NEF Grant department for funding but hadn’t been awarded yet. Her daughter, Bella Mulwani, asked if she could take our project on as her Gold project for Girl Scouts. Bella began designing our logo and helping to fundraise by selling Links for Love in local businesses and in our school. A few months later she had raised enough funds to get our shop open and with a few donations from our parents and community, we were able to open in February of this year. We selected a few of our NJHS students to buddy up with our students through our “Buddy” program and every Friday morning, they work with our students to serve and sell coffee, tea, hot chocolate, water and breakfast bars to our students and staff. We also have a V.I.P cart that goes around to our teachers. They are able to place their orders ahead of time and have it delivered to their classrooms. We recently received the APPROVED grant request that will be used to expand the business into an outside drive through for our parents dropping off their children.
We have since realized that Expresso-Yourself has become more than just a life skills program in our school. It’s created a sense of community within our school. The teachers look forward to it. We have parents park, get out of the car with their kids and spend a few minutes with them before school starts. Students hang out in our café area before school and socialize without being on their phones. It’s where the kids want to be. Our students are getting to know the General Education population and it’s pretty cool to see them give high 5’s to our kids walking down the hallways instead of being unsure of what to do. They are taking an interest in what our kids are doing and encouraging them along the way!
25% of all Sales of Expresso Yourself Items are donated directly to Expresso Yourself.