In the heart of Lexington lies a group of children and young adults that will melt your heart and help you realize the special moments in life. Each day 35 children and young adults enter through the doors into the South Lexington Elementary School Developmental Center, eager and excited to see familiar faces. They are seeking acceptance, guidance, and companionship from fellow students, teachers, and administrators. What happens behind these doors each day is molding innovation and creativity.
A newer curriculum added to the Developmental Center is called School Based Enterprise. What that really means is, “a chance to find expression and creativity for our students,” says teacher Bekah Macon. During the day, all 35 students come through her classroom making uniquely expressive crafts that are sold during the state’s Exceptional Children’s Conference held at the Koury Convention Center each November.
“This program gives students a chance to be like everyone else,” according to Macon. “We make decorative wood pieces, bird feeders, painted tin cans, and even note cards in this classroom.”
“Most of the supplies for these projects are donated or recycled from everyday items like tin cans from our school cafeteria or sticks from outside,” says Principal Cathy Misenhiemer. “Some items are donated as we need them, like our wood blocks that are painted and designed by our students.”
Misenhiemer, who was recently honored as Lexington City Schools Principal of the Year, has spent over 36 years as a teacher or administrator with the city schools and special needs programs. “These children are my life and inspiration. They deserve the best, just like any other student,” she says.
Two years ago, when Misenhiemer became the Developmental Center’s principal, she brought innovation and the ability to think outside the box. One of the many changes made to the center was the changing of classrooms throughout the day. “We have to help our students strive to improve and give them opportunity,” says Misenhiemer.
Soon after she joined the staff, she registered all the students and staff for the Exceptional Children’s Conference. At this conference, the staff and students bring the items they’ve worked to create over the school year to the convention center to sell during the event. The conference also provides professional development for the staff. This year’s conference is scheduled for November 8-10 at the Koury Convention Center in Greensboro.
“Last year was our first year participating and we pretty much sold out of all the items we brought to the event,” says Macon. “Our students have been working very hard to have as many items as we possibly can make before the event in November.” The money raised during the event helps to buy paint and supplies to keep the program active.
Looking around the room, you see smiles and forms of expression that many of us are unfamiliar with understanding, but within a few minutes you can see just how much this program means to these students. Some of them are unable to verbally communicate through words and some have severe physical limitations, but all of the students participate and find a form of expression. The kids pick their colors on their own by pointing or using a color chart to select their choice for the project. “What’s amazing to see is that these students pick some of the prettiest and most perfect color combinations. You can really see their ideas and expression come out in each project,” says Macon.
Macon continues, “This is the first year that I’ve had this curriculum, although I dabbled in it last year. Now I have the ability to help these students find a way to release their emotions and expression every day.”
The classroom is not the final place where the students have the ability to show their skills. During the actual conference, some of the students from the Developmental Center will go along, and they are the ones who sell their items. Some of the children utilize vocal assistance through computer voicing to introduce themselves to potential buyers of their crafts. They also locate items customers want to purchase using cue cards. The prices of items sold range from two to eight dollars each, with the larger items like the wood decorative pieces falling into the higher range.
“Last year, this program brought in a few hundred dollars from the event, which is great for our students,” Macon says. “Most of these students will not be able to have jobs or enter the workforce, but this program allows us to give them an opportunity to make items, sell items, and reap the benefits of that process just like any other person.”
She continues, “I see how this program is impacting their lives every day. They come into the classroom eager to participate and it’s also building their skillset.” Some of the skills the students are working on include grabbing and releasing skills. Some are working on play based learning skills. All of these skills are being addressed with this program.
Macon’s love of the developmental program is evident from the second you walk into the classroom. She says, “Our motto is like the hashtag, #MoreLikeThemThanDifferent. We want these students to see their importance to our society, and the ability to make these crafts gives them that reassurance.”