Shop till you drop

Farmers Trading Post provides opportunities, skills beyond schooling

Pop music and energetic dance moves lure those who pass the halls into a room designed with shelves and tables of various handmade items. The crinkles from the white grocery bags and the cha-ching from the cash register fills the air as the life skills students work hard to tend to the shoppers.

What started out as each life skills class creating its own store featuring crafts from car fresheners to dog treats, soon blossomed into the Farmers Trading Post. The store is in D104 and is open during block lunches on Tuesdays and Fridays. 

“The idea behind the store is not just about selling things, but also teaching our kids the life skills that they need to have jobs beyond school,” life skills teacher Beverly Stone said. “So initially when I was thinking of this, I was taking kids to the bakery, they were stocking shelves and putting labels on packages, and I’m like, we could do that here.” 

This store allows special education students to further their understanding of customer service, cashier and stocking experience, and social interaction. This future employment experience is the growth teachers like Barbara Garza strive to see within their students.

“The ultimate goal is employment because we want them to be as independent as possible,” Barbara said. “We want them to have gainful employment, and not that they’re just volunteering and then not seeing anything from their hard work.”

Back in May, a preview of the store was put together to showcase the various items including cookie ingredients in a mason jar, dog treats and bath bombs in the coming school year. With help from the faculty, the life skills department was able to receive a grant from the Lewisville Education Foundation to supply the cost for the desks, countertops and supplies needed to make the items. The class also manages the Farmers Cafe for teachers to come and enjoy lunch made by the students.

“It’s very, very important that we have that support from the teachers and the students to keep us going, so that we can have this availability for them,” Beverly said.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused tighter restrictions on the students’ abilities to go out and do work-based learning around the community. This led the teachers to adapt on campus ideas similar to its counterparts.

“We wanted to keep them safe, so we had to find and create local opportunities here,” Barbara said. “That’s where the mason jars started and Mrs. Lister was doing ‘boo bags’ at Halloween. Then we just started creating more job-like opportunities within the campus, and we just kind of ran with it.”

In the students’ junior and senior years, they’re connected with two different programs, Project Search and Focus on the Future, that allow in-depth employment experiences. Project Search is a 16-month program where students have job coaches who take them around Lewisville to different job sites. Focus on the Future is similar to Project Search by connecting the students with employment, but they may still have some prerequisite skill. These programs allow the teachers to create that smooth transition, for the students, into the next chapters of their lives. 

“Our job and what we hope to do is kind of close that gap,” Barbara said. “By the time they leave us, they’re really ready for the next stage.”

Circle of Friends and Unified FitClub are the organizations the life skills program advises. They provide students’ chances to make friends with those in the program and it incorporates inclusivity among the students by playing games together, supporting them at events like the Special Olympics, and doing different activities around the school with each other. With the organizations, students create positive environments for everyone involved and are able to make new friends in their journeys through high school.

“You really do make friends with the kids, and you get to know kids that you otherwise don’t really see in the hallways,” Circle of Friends member Alexa Barretto said. “It brightens my day when I see them in the halls sometimes and they say ‘Hey’ and I’m like ‘Oh hey’ because it’s just another friend that you have.”

Having the opportunity to hang out with the life skills students can create more positive outlooks on the world and presents students like junior Anna Stone a sense of enjoyment to see them. 

“It’s a lot of fun,” Anna said. “I get a hug every single day from one of the kids, so it’s a lot of fun. I like to go talk to them, and they’re really sweet.”

The Farmers’ Trading Post, along with the other life skills activities, improve the students’ learning curves and encourages them to actively engage with work-based learning which will get them one step closer to employment after high school. 

“These kids are capable of anything and everything,” Beverly said. “They just need somebody to put some faith in them and teach them how.”