RIVERTON, Kan. —
When Riverton High School special-education teacher Matt DeMoss came up with an idea for a new program, he figured it would take a year for students to learn it, adjust to it and begin thriving.
“In reality, we had to catch up to the kids’ progress. They’re now teaching one another,” he said Thursday morning as they got busy.
The students are running their own business, called 323 MFG. The 323 references their classroom, and MFG stands for manufacturing.
“Greeting cards,” said senior Bella Stemm as she carefully ironed a 5- by 7-inch piece of wet, hand-created pink paper.
“This is my favorite part to do,” she said.
Moments before, the card had been several cups of shredded recycled construction paper.
Senior Chris Huff combined the shredded paper with water in a kitchen blender at a classroom workstation, mixed it until it was pulpy, then poured it into a paper mold. Assisted by freshman Baileigh Mead, he carefully placed a piece of screen wire on top and squeegeed out the excess water.
After an ironing by Stemm, the paper would dry for a day, after which it would be ready for students to fold it in half and transform it into a custom Valentine’s Day card with markers, glitter, sequins and other craft elements.
On the back of each such card, they add a label signed by senior Esteban Hinojosa, who DeMoss said needed a venue to practice writing his name.
“He is doing an important job,” DeMoss said. “He is our quality control.”
The students will sell the cards for $1 each at a table in the school cafeteria in the week leading up to Valentine’s Day. They’re also taking orders.
Such efforts were an overwhelming success at Christmas, the group’s first big holiday endeavor.
The students also have created birthday, Halloween, sympathy, thank-you and anniversary cards.
DeMoss, who is in his second year of teaching in Riverton, said he wanted to start something hands-on for his students that would engage them and could be tied to as many curriculum areas as possible.
“They’re following written and verbal instructions, reading job tickets, doing math, handling money,” he said.
It’s also improving their communication skills and teamwork abilities.
“They probably all will end up after high school with Class Ltd.,” DeMoss said. “My goal while they were in high school, just like any other teacher, was to get them ready for that post-secondary career.”
He gained support from his coordinators, Debbie Christman and Dan Duling, at SEK Interlocal No. 637, which provides special-education services for a multicounty area; from Riverton High School administrators Cory White and Zach Martin; and from Tracy Rampy and Stacy Clarkson of the Southeast Kansas Education Service Center at Greenbush.
The latter two introduced him to Cindy Van Horn, who has what DeMoss described as a “model program” in the Blue Valley School District.
He found financial backing from patrons who gave start-up money to buy equipment.
The program now is generating money from card sales. The money provides a fund for supplies, allowed the students at Christmas to make purchases for an underprivileged Riverton student, and this spring will pay for a class field trip.
On the horizon: perhaps Mother’s Day cards.
Senior Kwart Turner, a student mentor for the class, said he plans to have the students make his graduation announcements out of the handmade paper and embellishments.
“It’s still in the planning stages as to what they’ll look like,” he said, “but I thought it would be a good idea and would help them raise money.”
Stemm said she, too, is going to use the handmade cards for her graduation announcements.
“Mine will be blinged out,” she said. “I like glitter.”
DeMoss credited the students and paraprofessionals for the program’s success.
Linda Edens, who is in her ninth year as a paraprofessional, said she has seen a marked change in the students and the class since DeMoss began the program.
“He has involved the kids in all aspects of this, so they have a say, they feel important,” she said. “He asked them when we started to draw out their designs, and then they voted on which ones to go ahead and do. He made it their decision.
“It’s teaching them independence. It’s teaching them a job skill, how to speak up in their own words about what they like, what they want, in a way like never before. They’ve gone from sitting and doing their work to actually participating and making the class their own. It’s just mind-blowing how well it has gone over.”
RIVERTON IS A SATELLITE SCHOOL for special-education students from surrounding districts. Class members also come from Baxter Springs, Columbus and Galena.