Academy360’s annual May Market is not just a great time for parents and staff to purchase small gifts, candy, plants, and other items made by A360’s Middle School students. The event is also a celebration of those students’ participation in the award-winning national TREP$ Entrepreneurship Education Program.

Each Friday throughout the school year, students roll up their sleeves and learn how to create items that are not only fun to make, but will interest potential customers. From crafting jewelry to folding origami, students learn how to produce creative items to sell. Towards the end of the school year, they are excited to show off their wares in the marketplace, earning money and praise for their efforts.

Typically, the nationally known TREP$ program, short for enTREPreneur$, teaches kids in grades 4-8 how to start their own businesses in 6-8 weeks. They learn the lessons in weekly workshops and apply them at home as they build their business with the help of their families. The whole school community comes out to enjoy the TREP$ Marketplace, held right at the school, where the young entrepreneurs launch their businesses together.

Though the official TREP$ curriculum does not currently have a special needs initiative, to incorporate ideas and practices from the In-House Jobs career training that has been taught at A360 for over 15 years, it was adapted for use at Academy360 by Principal Gina Catania.

About two years ago, when Ms. Catania saw what other schools were doing with TREP$, she reached out to the organization to discuss how it could be incorporated into A360’s home-grown program which already focused on teaching job skills and culminated in May Market. After discussions with representatives from TREP$, who were impressed with the school’s programs, A360 purchased the curriculum and set about customizing it for its students.

At A360, TREP$ classes are considered jobs, in some cases practicing skills that could be put to use in post-education employment. Students learn how to make products based on visual step-by-step instructions using pictures or word task analysis. Running in six-week cycles throughout the school year, students have the chance to produce a variety of items in different classes, as new classes are added each cycle.

And students have quite the list classes to select from! Offerings this school year include rock crafts, jewelry making, Rice Crispy chef, chocolatier, baking, puzzle piece artist, origami, sign making, Hershey Kiss packaging, Washi tape designs, and gardening.

Jewelry-making is something the students love, says Joanne Coiro, one of the staff involved in running TREP$ sessions. Made out of memory wire and beads, it’s a relaxing craft that is adaptable to students at all skill levels. Those with fine motor skills love working with smaller beads, while other students enjoy making chunky-bracelets out of brightly-colored larger ones. The students love seeing how popular their products are at the May Market – jewelry sells!

Students in another popular class made dog treats and gifts, including chew toys made from rope. The students were thrilled to watch how fast they sold out.

Students’ choices provide teachers with valuable insight into the child’s interests, says Ms. Catania. Insight into what each child enjoys is provided to case managers to include in their IEP transition plan.

“We’ve tracked students who always want to work with a certain skill set: Do they always choose food-related projects? Are they drawn to the computer? All of these things clue us in to careers they might want in the future!”

Students don’t just learn how to make products – they learn how to sell them!

To prepare for the May Market, TREP$ students practice the “WH” questions with speech therapists – the “what” they made and “where” they made them, “who” they worked with, “why” they liked making it. Practicing these answers helps them to engage in conversation when shoppers come to their table.

On market day, parents and staff marvel at the items the students have worked so hard all year to produce. Held in the cafeteria, students help staff set up tables, lay down table cloths, and arrange the products for sale. Some may also work as “greeters,” escorting parents to the cafeteria, while those with higher level math skills work as cashiers, adding up purchases and collecting money.

“We want them to have fun, to not stress themselves,” says Ms. Coiro. “They take turns at the tables, doing whatever jobs they enjoy, interacting with parents and other guests.”

“One of the most important lessons to be learned from TREP$ is pride of a job well-done,” she continues. “They’ve worked hard all year, now’s the time to be happy and show off what they’ve accomplished.”