AISD special education class transforms coursework into a business

Special education students in Studio 334 are creating items to sell for their online shop, raising money for more classroom materials
Special education students in Studio 334 are creating items to sell for their online shop, raising money for more classroom materials

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Monday through Friday, five students make their way into Room 334 at Akins High School. They are greeted by their teacher Mr. Jeff Schafer and two aides.

“Even if two students have the same disability, the way it expresses itself is really different,” said Schafer.

They’ve embraced an important mindset in the classroom, focusing not on their disabilities but rather their abilities. However, earlier in the year, it was more of a struggle. Lessons consisted of filling out packets, watching videos and doing individual readings. Mr. Schafer was constantly dealing with behavioral issues in the classroom.

“It was very obvious that the teachers were frustrated, the students were frustrated. And It just wasn’t a real positive environment,” said Schafer. “One day I said, we’re not going to learn this way anymore.”

With the school’s support, Schafer gave his lesson plans a complete makeover, incorporating projects that opened the door for students to be creative and gain life skills. Their first assignment was creating a bird house.

“They did better than I really thought they would. They made it very neat, they double checked their measurements, they just did a really good job and I was impressed,” said Schafer.

He began to try various projects and crafts with the students, and it opened his eyes to all the potential in the classroom. That’s where the idea for Studio 334 was born. It’s an online shop where they can sell their items, raising money for more materials in the classroom.

“Like a wood-working area, metal-working area, maybe a potter’s wheel, building a small kitchen so we can learn how to cook,” said Schafer. “They can practice earning an independent living when they’re gone, but can still make mistakes here and we’re here to help them.”

Schafer says one of the biggest challenges for special education teachers is helping students transition from high school to independent living. He says the new lessons in his class have been instrumental in showing students their potential.

“I want people to see that these boys matter, they have a lot to give back,” said Mr. Schafer. He says behavioral problems have also improved significantly.

Jacob Ramirez is one of the students in the class. “I feel happy inside, because the good thing is someone is supporting us, buying stuff, and I know people need it,” said Ramirez. “Our stuff is better than from stores because our stuff, it’s handmade.”

Among the things he has excelled at is creating present tags. “They get excited people are interested in the things they’ve made, and the money aspect too which is important,” said Schafer.

Right now they have a goal of earning $1,000. You can support Studio 334 at their online shop.