Verona Students Open Online Store
The Children's Institute gives special needs students hands-on learning.
High school students at The Children’s Institute in Verona are taking the lessons they’ve been learning at the school and putting them to good use — running an online store.
The students participating in the business venture are all special needs students - some of whom have autism or disabilties - but they are running the business and earning recognition for the job they're doing.
The students were recently recognized for their hard work by both the New Jersey School Board Association and ASAH with an innovations in special education award last month.
The business serves the high school student body and allows the students to work with budgets, analyze popular products and deliver those products to their fellow students. The Children’s Institute is a private school for children and young adults with autism and other disabilities.
“One of the aspects that was interesting about this in terms of a learning exercise was that we’d purchase the stuff and then actually monitor sales to see what was moving and what wasn’t,” said teacher David Di Ianni. “But we really do a market analysis to see what sold (and) how quickly.”
Di Ianni, a teacher at the school for four years, thought of having an online school store two years ago as a project for his students in the 18-21 young adult program.
At the school, there is a reward system in which students get “virtual dollars” or credit points for things such as meeting the goals of their teachers. The school calls it a “token economy program.”
With that credit, students could purchase comic books or other items at the “school store,” which for the high school students used to be in the corner of a classroom.
To bring the concept of a school store to the Internet, Di Ianni got help from the school’s computer specialist, Randall Palmer. Using a free Google application, the students took a template to create a web site for the online store.
The site, accessible only to staff and students of the school, allows shoppers to click the items they want. School staff can even use it to rent DVDs, although they have to use real money.
Di Ianni’s students embraced the concept as part of a learning-by-doing project.
“I think that they just liked the idea of doing something that was what they’re used to doing on the computer at home,” Di Ianni said. “They immediately thought of eBay and Amazon, and it was a way for them to do something that they had been doing for most of their high school career. . . in an interactive and different way.”
“The skills they’re using are very similar to what somebody would use if they were say selling an item on eBay,” Palmer said. “They’re photographing the item, they’re writing up a description. And they are designing a web page with all this.”
As part of their work, students accompanied by school staff went into the community to buy the products they would sell online. The school works with students on acquiring skills students need to function socially in the outside world, from getting on a bus to ordering at a restaurant.
“By going out and buying this stuff, we’re working on a lot of skills,” Di Ianni said.
During the current school year, Di Ianni’s students have fulfilled 50 orders — and even had some cases where customers returned the products. While the initial novelty might have worn off, the online store is here to stay.
“What I found interesting,” Palmer said, “is the motivational aspect to this.” He said that during break times after lunch, he has found students in the computer room working on the Internet store.
“In their free time, they could be doing anything, and this what they’re doing,” he said. “It blew my mind. I haven’t seen than kind of collaboration on any project here at TCI.”
Palmer said he and Di Ianni have gone to three conferences to share the concept with their peers.
The Children's Institute is located at 1 Sunset Ave. in Verona.