Practical Practice


Items in room 96 ready for sale with price stickers on them.

Most students take for granted the communication skills they possess and the ability to formulate responses to unfamiliar situations. Students in special education rarely get chances to practice such skills that do not come naturally, however, until their first job, especially when students pursue retail jobs.

These situations referred to above can be simplistic, such as saying ‘You’re welcome’ instead of ‘Thank you,’ or more complex situations like answering questions in an interview. To solve this lack of communication and problem-solving practice for students in special education, the Francis Howell Central Office and administration, including the teachers in special education, a speech pathologist, principals, and other administrators, have worked together to create the Spartan Market, opening for teachers donations on Friday, Feb. 10.

The Spartan Market is a shop where teachers can bring unwanted, gently-used, or never-used items to room 96 for students in special education to sell during all school hours. Different students switch off based on their free hours. 

“We intend to work with each student at their skill level as we do in the classroom. We will do what is called “job carving” to give students specific pieces of a task to work on that line up with their strengths and goals,” Mrs. Courtney Jilek, the head of the Spartan Market who has been working in the Francis Howell District for 11 years said.

The donor teacher can decide whether the full profits from any of the given items should go directly to the special education committee, or if the profits are to be split 50/50 between the community and the teacher who brought in the item, and the teacher would decide the price of their item to be sold at. While the students in special education sell the items, they are getting to practice vital communication skills with other teachers who purchase the given items.  

“What we’re trying to do is have those students generalize those skills in a completely different setting. So a student may be able to know how to do that skill or certain skill at a certain level in a more controlled environment and classroom setting, but in the world, you’re dealing with people, you’re communicating things; things don’t always work out smoothly, or there are always roadblocks in the way,” Mr. Ken Henson, a special education teacher who has been teaching for 28 years supporting the market, said.

Mrs. Jilek says that the store aspect is especially important.

“Bringing a “store” into the building is a creative way for our students to learn and practice things that aren’t already in place in our current classes that focus on job skills,” Mrs. Jilek said. “Running the store involves learning how to communicate with customers in the store, written communication with sellers, working with other student team members while in the store, communicating with “supervisors” while learning a new job… there will be a lot of opportunities to practice different ways of communicating.”

The process of the market is mostly run by the students in special education, so the teachers sit back and only intervene when needed. The Spartan Market outlines five main values that the teachers look for in the students: Communication, maturity, motivation, appropriate hygiene skills, and especially dependability. When the teachers depend on the students, and in such a controlled environment, speech pathologist Mrs. Amy Ney-Carder, who has been teaching in the Francis Howell District for nine years, says the students can’t fail.

“I can’t kick them out of school because they didn’t do the job right. If they were in the real world, and they got a new job, then they could get fired. We want to give them the chance to practice here and consistently rather than hoping for the best and going out without any practice,” Mrs. Ney-Carder said.

The logo of the Spartan Market form to submit items. (Amelia Raziq)

To submit an item, teachers need to fill out a form that can be found through the link here, which can be found through the weekly newsletter sent by Principal Dr. Suzzane Leake, Spillin’ the Spartan Tea, or a QR code is pasted on flyers around the school. Filling out the google form will allow the students in special education to see a teacher’s item, and they will then email the teacher back to pick up the specific item at a designated time. After they have picked up the item and sold it, they will email the teacher again to give back the money if the teacher had requested to keep half of the profits. The Essential Skills students are doing all of these processes.

“You know, like, you have to learn how to use a computer, you have to learn how to use Google forms before. So that’s where the learning comes in, and that’s where the teacher support comes in. But when a customer comes into the store, the intention is the student comes in, says Hi, welcome to Spartan market, how can I help you? Okay, let me check you out. And the students will do the checkout,” Mrs. Ney-Carder said.

Mrs. Jilek says that the Spartan Market idea partly came from the lack of staff to undergo career-based instruction or CBI, venues to put students into problem-solving situations.

“We used to take students on career-based instruction trips out in the community to practice different job skills, but we just can’t do that with the paras we have. Some of us working with the Essential Skills program were against forcing CBI to happen the way it used to because it just wouldn’t be what was best for the majority of our students. I think the Spartan Market will be much more successful than CBI would’ve been,” Mrs. Jilek said.