- Associated Press - Sunday, February 18, 2018

ONALASKA, Wis. (AP) - Special education students in western Wisconsin are running a small business and learning communication, budget and inventory skills.

Onalaska High School transition coordinator Shelby Buchanan founded Ona Spirit in 2012, the La Crosse Tribune reported .

The business started creating spirit chains: personalized key chains made from letter beads, colored beads and cord. Now it also sells coffee and fresh greens grown from a classroom greenhouse.

“All these little micro-enterprises we have give them a chance to learn skills,” said Buchanan. “The Onalaska student body is really amazing in supporting us in everything we do.”

Students typically receive between four to 20 orders for spirit chains daily, with sales picking up around Christmas. The school group also sells items at the Parks and Recreation office and a handful of local businesses.

Students fill, package and label items daily. Items are delivered once a week. One student is also in charge of being the business’s accountant, tracking sales through spreadsheets.

“They go into businesses and they shake hands and make eye contact - they’re getting really comfortable in the community,” said Jeri Metzig, a paraprofessional who works with the students. “They know it’s their job, their business.”

The money raised goes into a group fund that’s used for an event at the end of the year. Students can also earn money individually through positive behavior.

“They work so hard, they deserve to be rewarded,” Buchanan said.

Senior Alexcie Wenger is one of a dozen students in Buchanan’s job skills class. She can complete a spirit chain in less than 90 seconds. Wenger’s not sure what she wants to pursue after she graduates, but said her experience with the business has boosted her confidence.

“I’m better at talking to people and making eye contact,” Wenger said. “It feels really good to make this stuff.”

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Information from: La Crosse Tribune, http://www.lacrossetribune.com


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