It’s a typical Thursday afternoon, and Jennifer Shaw is glancing around her special education classroom as a full-fledged business operation powers seamlessly through another fun workday. In one section of the room, students are busy cutting up crafts for custom-made accessories and fashionable t-shirts that they’ll eventually deliver to paying customers at the school. A few feet away, another student is working on the financials, including counting change and writing receipts. To say this isn’t your everyday life skills class would be an understatement of epic proportions.
“It’s a true business, and each employee has an important part,” said Shaw, a teacher at The Colony. “I have visions and dreams of what I’d like this to be eventually. But right now, we’re just doing a little bit at a time. It’s growing every year.”
The “it” Shaw is referring to is her Radiant Treasures program, which is currently centered around making the Pinterest dreams of customers come true with custom t-shirt orders and unique crafts like lanyards, bath bombs, wreaths, and more. The entire production — from product development to advertising, finances, and logistics — is run by her TCHS Life Skills students. Rather than take a basic life skills course, these vibrant and creative special needs students receive hands-on training in critical skills that will prepare them for life outside of high school.
Jennifer has operated the program for the past five years. She started by teaching basic skills such as laundry, hygiene, cooking, money skills, etc. but noticed there was a gap when it came to helping these students prepare for the workforce once they graduate. Running their own business within the walls of the school was the best way to teach those skills.
“I wanted them to have an opportunity to learn basic job skills in a safe environment with me before they get out into the real world,” Shaw said. “We were doing a great job with daily living skills, but we wanted them to be well-rounded. We have some students whose ability level is lower, but they can still do important things and be engaged. Meanwhile, others are keeping the financials, counting change, and writing receipts. It’s neat to see the range of skills.”
Interestingly, the first business Shaw and her students built from the ground up was an onsite coffee shop. The students would make and sell coffee to the staff, including making personal deliveries. They also made and sold various treats.
Eventually, that idea evolved into an on-campus diner where they’d shop for the necessary ingredients and supplies for each meal, prepare each meal, and serve it. COVID-19 forced Shaw to move into something that was non-food-related and could allow for contactless deliveries. Hence, the craft business.
The name, Radiant Treasures, was also inspired by a former student, Jessica Martinet, who passed away unexpectedly. She was the school’s “ray of sunshine,” and those who loved her dearly wanted to honor her with a new business name.
“All of it has been very successful,” Shaw said. She secured a grant through the Lewisville Education Foundation to purchase a t-shirt press and other essentials to get the idea off the ground. “As an educator, one of the difficult things for me is that my students typically don’t come back and say, ‘you made such an incredible impact on my life because they simply aren’t able to. But being able to see them get a job, be successful as an adult, or see a student who starts out scared to death to talk to people but is now out making deliveries and selling products, is an absolutely phenomenal feeling. What I’m most proud of is how the community accepts all of these students. They see the value in the program and the individual student. That’s important to me.“
Shaw can see this program growing into a larger business venture within the high school. For now, she’s happy with what they’ve accomplished over the past five years — all of which has made an incredible impact on these deserving students.
photos courtesy of Jennifer Shaw