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A Classroom Grocery Store

Students from the Special School District at Affton High School learn life lessons from visits to area grocery store

Affton High School Special Education students Hannah Benson and Antonio Minter work together to get a twist tie on a bag of oranges. Special School District educator Michelle Williams started shopping with her students five years ago. Twice a month students visit the nearby Shop 'n Save on Chippewa. photo by Ursula Ruhl.

April 21, 2017
Choosing bananas may seem basic enough, but the special education students at Affton High School see it differently. Pulling apart bananas from the bunch to fill orders for staff back at school lends life lessons.

On first and third Wednesday mornings during the school year, the local Shop 'n Save acts as an extended classroom for 11 or so students in Affton High School's Special Education program.

Special School District educator Michelle Williams started shopping with her charges five years ago. She based her goals on a community-based learning program in place at another high school in the region, in accordance with Special School District protocol.

Teaming up with fellow special educator Mary Beth Merlo and paraprofessional Vernita Cogo, Williams and gang arrive around 10 a.m. at Shop 'n Save for the deal dash.

Affton High School sophomore Joey Denton checks out his groceries in the express lane. photo by Ursula Ruhl.

Before shopping day, faculty and staff around school make lists for the students, attaching ads when they can. Special education students work in pairs from their assigned lists, guided by Williams and her paraprofessional.

"They learn all sorts of skills that we often take for granted," said special educator Williams.

Finding items means a marathon all over the store. Despite the difficulties, special education students Antonio Minter and Hannah Benson relish the task.

"It's great," said Minter. "I love working with Mrs. Williams."

"I love shopping," echoed Benson. "I go with my mom often, and she teaches me lots of things, like looking for the best prices."

Bopping to the music on the overhead speakers, Minter and Benson head off to find cough drops.

"Here's Vitamin C," said Minter.

"Oh, there's a sign for cough/cold medicine," Minter said.

Once their lists are crossed off, Minter and Benson join the other student pairs at the self-checkout counter.

Special School District educator Michelle Williams with students Antonio Minter and Hannah Benson do a little shopping for school staff at the area Shop 'N Save. photo by Ursula Ruhl.

Back at school, they'll pass off the products and plunge back into hands-on tasks. Williams said the students learn academics in the morning and do basic business the rest of the day, on campus and off. They pick up recycled items throughout school, fill backpacks with food for younger students in need throughout the district and more.

Special education students cook fun, easy meals like walking tacos and mac 'n cheese on the second and fourth Wednesday, said Williams.

Junior and senior special education students work at Kmart four afternoons a week, mentored by Williams' fellow special educator Merlo.

"They're exhausted by the end of shopping day," said Williams. "I love seeing the look in their eyes showing they've figured things out on their own."

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