Connecting Business Education, Students
with Disabilities, and the Community
By JOANNE CANIGLIA
Joanne Caniglia earned an undergraduate degree in mathematics at John Carroll University and her masters in mathematics at Youngstown State University. She was a secondary teacher and department chair in Niles and St. Vincent–St. Mary’s High School, Akron, Ohio for more than a decade and spent time as a graduate researcher at Kent State University where she received her doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in Mathematics Education. She also taught for 14 years at Eastern Michigan University and is currently associate professor at Kent State University where she directs the Service Learning Program. Her research interests include mathematics and special education. The author teaches Personal Financial Literacy in the Career and Community Studies (CCS) program for one hour each week, in a four year sequence.
The Heart to Heart Blanket Project was initially a collaboration between the School of Finance and the College of Education, Health, and Human Services at Kent State University (KSU), but eventually grew to be much more. The purpose was to bring Finance majors together with KSU’s Transition students to create a plan for a simulated business—Heart to Heart Blankets. Kent State’s Transition program accepts students ages 18 to 25 with intellectual disabilities who attend college classes and pursue career options. In all, four groups came together to provide service to the homeless community in Akron, Ohio. Finance students assisted Transition students in creating a business plan to produce fleece blankets. Special Education pre-service teachers created accommodations for students as they designed, planned, and made thirty blankets for Harvest House, an Akron area of agency for homeless women and children.
Kent State University, located in Northeast Ohio, is a state university offering undergraduate and graduate programs in business, education, fashion design, arts, sciences, and humanities. There are approximately 42,000 students with 7 regional campuses. Kent State has eight colleges offering more than 280 academic programs at the certificate, associate, bachelor's, master's, educational specialist and doctoral levels. The Carnegie Foundation has ranked Kent State University among the nation's top 75 public high-research universities and among the 76 top colleges and top universities in community engagement. The engagement in community is an integral component of Kent State University’s mission, with partnerships with the community and among colleges highly encouraged and a core requirement for students.
The Heart-to Heart Blanket Project grew out of a partnership between the Schools of Business and College of Education, Health and Human Services during the spring of 2014. In business, twelve finance students offered expertise and advice to students with special needs (ages 18-25) for a business plan and its execution. Students offered advice on the goals, job descriptions, spreadsheets, marketing, quality control, and accounting. Business students offered more than 40 hours in consultation and advice--from inception to the business plan to the production.
Future special education teachers worked with students on math and social skills involved with teamwork. These KSU preservice teachers worked with twenty students with special intellectual disabilities to plan, design, and produce 30 fleece blankets for homeless women and children. The following sections will describe each of the community and university partners and their role in the project.
The Career and Community Studies Program at Kent State focuses on rigorous academic enrichment for students with intellectual disabilities while providing peer socialization and reinforcing independent living skills. Throughout their coursework, students acquire self-advocacy and career skills that will lead to employment in the community. Upon completion of this career development program, students will receive significant credentials documenting their achievement, career experience, and skills. Kent State is one of 27 universities nationally to receive funding from the U.S. Department of Higher Education to develop a program known as “Transition in Postsecondary Settings for Students with Intellectual Disabilities” (TPSID).
Pre-service Special Education Teachers
One requirement of the Special Education Department at Kent State is the course, CI 47501 Teaching Mathematics in Early and Middle Grades. Students in this course learn strategies that are evidence-based practices for teaching students with difficulties in mathematics. The mathematics covers all aspects of the Common Core for State Standards . As part of this course twenty preservice special education students work with the students in the CCS program. They mentor them in problem solving, and the mathematics that is involved in financial literacy. This too is performed once a week.
Our KSU Finance Department Partners
Eleven students from KSU’s Finance Department offered their expertise in five major areas: accounting, marketing, design, quality control, and purchasing. The department’s mission is to create new knowledge at the undergraduate, masters, and doctoral levels. Kent State University provides opportunities for students to learn and develop their skills by applying knowledge to business problems through traditional and experiential learning, while adding value to the region and the world beyond its campuses. This commitment to the greater Akron community and to serve the KSU and greater community distinguishes KSU’s Finance Department as an exceptional one in service learning.
Harvest Home is a homeless shelter for women and children. It offers shelter, crisis intervention, and supportive services. They can house up to 52 women and children at one time. Because the project occurred close to Christmas, children were able to choose their favorite superhero or a princess blanket. The CCS students delivered more than 30 blankets to Harvest House with women and children choosing their blankets and their favorite colors.
The Heart to Heart Fleece Business Plan
Transitions Special Needs Students (CCS), Special Education Future Teachers, and Finance Students joined together to create a business plan for making fleece blankets. Culminating the project was the meeting of the KSU students with the homeless women and children of Akron, Ohio. Thirty blankets were delivered to children and mothers at the Harvest House on November 9, 2013. Yet, the process began long before this date.
The real value of creating a business plan is not in having the finished product in hand; rather, the value lies in the process of researching and thinking about your business in a systematic way. The act of planning helps one to think things through thoroughly, study and research if you are not sure of the facts, and look at your ideas critically. It takes time now, but avoids costly, perhaps disastrous, mistakes later. These were lessons that the directors and KSU students wanted to Transition students to take away (Dymond, Renaglia, & Chun, 2008).
The collaboration among students of all levels were sought to develop a plan that included various components: Buyers, Marketing, Accountants, Designers, Quality Control, and Operations. Each of the components are described at the end of the article.
My Own Reflections on the Project
As I described the project to my pre-service special education students, I knew what my goals for the class would be. Above all, I wanted them to assist the Transition students in all aspects of the project and to allow the Transition students to “take the lead” in developing roles and responsibilities for their particular team. Five teams in all would choose a leader and create job descriptions. These are described below in Table 1. Each Transition student could make the decision of what role they would play while the finance students and special education majors would support the students as consultants while practicing the components of Universal Design—creating multiple representations; multiple means of action and expression; and multiple methods of engagement. Above all, I wanted the students involved to reflect on the experiences and hoped that by visiting Harvest House and distributing the blankets the Transition students would not only have the experience, but also gain meaning and insight into what this project means to others. I wanted my students to think deeply about the issues of poverty and how important it was to be a part of the lives of those most vulnerable without feeling condescending. Thus, the project, in all of its many parts, was to be well designed in order for it to be effective.
The Sisler McFawn Foundation of Akron, whose mission is to make connections with organizations that benefit the needs of the Akron, Ohio area, funded all facets of the project. Although I wrote the proposal and was responsible for the implementation, I welcomed the assistance of many students whose efforts satisfied the foundations’ goals and the academic needs of students. However, one very unexpected outcome of the project was the development of self-empowerment within the Transition Students.
After all the blankets were made and budgets, marketing plans, and designs were created, the Transition students and Special Education pre-service teachers boarded a bus to deliver their work. After introductions, with the children and mothers living in Harvest House, the Transition students were thrilled that their work was so well received. The children squealed with delight. Their mothers were so grateful for gifts and of such popular themes.
However, it was the Transition students who were the most affected. The encounter of the Transition students with the homeless children provided an opportunity for them to experience a connection that would be impossible to have in the classroom. During the exchange, the Transition students were not the recipients of service. Instead, they were given a new perspective—they were thinking of others, of how their work made the children feel.
It was also an AHA moment for many future special education teachers, who work with students who often, because of intellectual disabilities, may appear socially isolated. This encounter helped the Transition students to see a different perspective; one in which they went outside of themselves. “Did you see how excited they were?” “They loved our blankets,” “I wish we had more to give them!”
Following the gifting of blankets, the Transition students were given a tour of the bedrooms and educational centers of the homeless shelter, one of the largest facilities in the county. The entire concept of someone staying in a homeless shelter was new for many of the Transition students. It was then that I realized my emphasis was on the business simulation and not on the concept of homelessness and of preparing my students for that reality. Reflection upon the experience is so essential. I wanted my students to see beyond themselves, and yet I did not provide for them to understand what was right in front of them. I wanted them to see from a different perspective, and yet I had not helped them to provide background information about the reality of homelessness.
The following year, the same Transition students made blankets again. The aha moments were not as dramatic, yet the Transition students remembered the homeless children and instead of moving right into making new blankets, they reflected on what the children would want. Their perspective, their understanding was not about their own perceptions, but about the children. This remembering provided a teachable moment for reflection.
Although the list of what is involved in self-determination is long and often not totally attainable by students with intellectual disabilities, Service Learning provides many opportunities for students to reflect and the experiential nature enables students to remember and to see reality from another perspective, including the faculty member’s.
Summing Up The Work
When designing service-learning projects, such as Heart-to-Heart Blankets, coordinators need to plan carefully and methodically well-designed projects to include the special needs student as an integral partner in the service-learning projects. Because reflection is such an essential part of service-learning, the following tips came from the Transition students after the question was posed: What would help us the next time we would do this experience? Their answers included:
- If you have trouble cutting through the material, try using a good type of scissors.
- If your hands are sore, try soaking them in warm water for a few minutes before to beginning work on the blanket.
- If you have trouble keeping both pieces of fleece flat and not bunch up underneath, use clothes pins and then try to make sure that you check the fabric every so often.
- Make sure you have plenty of pizza for all the workers.
- Then make sure you have donuts without the powdered sugar.
- When writing a story about the project for the KSU Stater ask the Writing Center for help…bring a first draft though.
- When making the spreadsheet use bigger lines than EXCEL.
- When writing thank you notes, make sure you get cards that are large to write in.
Through the Heart-to-Heart Fleece Blanket Project, students with special needs can become resources for the community. By connecting KSU’s transition students with future special education teachers, and finance majors, this service-learning provides opportunities for all and the community organization to become contributors, problem solvers, and partners in improving communities.
Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and Education. The Macmillan Co.
Dymon, S. K. Renaglia, A., & Jung Chun, E. (2008). Methods for and Barriers to Including Students with Disabilities Education and Training in Developmental Disabilities, 2008, 43(1), 20–36.
Krajewski, J., & Callahan, J. (1998). Service-learning: A strategy for vocational training of young adults with special needs. Journal for Vocational Special Needs Education, 21(1), 34–38.
The Components and Partner Roles of the Project
• Decide which store has the best price (Walmart, JoaAnne’s, Michael).
• Decide how much material to purchase and how many scissors can be afforded. Their goal was to buy 30 dq. yards of solid color fleece and 30 sq. yards of printed fleece. Their recommendation: Walmart had the best price on scissors and fleece, but the smallest selection.
• “Go where the best products for the best price.” JoAnn’s was chosen since some students had coupons.
• Create a flyer for everyone to know what will happen on November 9th.
• Create a story for the Daily Kent Stater (KSU’s newspaper).
• Create a time-study sheet for workers;
• Kept track of all finances on EXCEL.
• Compare files and receipts with the budget of the grant. They solved the following problem.
• Transition students solved the following problem: If 6 blankets were created in 1 hour, how many hours would it take us to make 30 blankets.
• Items included in the spreadsheet: Travel: $2,575, Food $500, Supplies: $1,574, Ads $90, Extra $440.
• Construct a survey for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders based on what type of blankets and designs are popular.
• Collate the information and create the following list of designs that the buyers need to acquire (because this list was so varied, Walmart was no longer on the list).
• Join the students who would make the blankets and check to make sure all the various designs were incorporated. Designs included snowflakes, mistletoe, Christmas trees, reindeer, snowman, Santa Claus, Rainbows and Tie dye, Cartoons and Action Figures.
• Create a list of criteria that each blanket needed to meet;
• Decide on packaging and deliver the boxes safely to the Harvest House. The list of criteria included:
o Cut right, neatly,
o Make the size of the solid fleece match the patterned fleece, no rips or tears, packaged and folded properly; knots should be tied tightly; and should be colorful;
o Knots should be the right size and accurately measured.
• Create a list
• Lit included food, sign-in, materials, music, boxes for packaging and quality control. This team also suggested a pilot test. This was a helpful way to assess student’s ability.
Table 1. The Teams and Responsibilities as Designed by Transition Students:
||Roles and Responsibilities
- Create a time-study sheet for workers;
- Kept track of all finances on EXCEL.
- Compare files and receipts with the budget of the grant. They solved the following problem.
- Transition students solved the following problem: If 6 blankets were created in 1 hour, how many hours would it take us to make 30 blankets.
- Items included in the spreadsheet: Travel: $2,575, Food $500, Supplies: $1,574, Ads $90, Extra $440.
- Decide which store has the best price (Walmart, JoAnne’s, Michael).
- Decide how much material to purchase and how many scissors can be afforded. Their goal was to buy 30 sq. yards of solid color fleece and 30 sq. yards of printed fleece. Their recommendation: Walmart had the best price on scissors and fleece, but the smallest selection.
- “Go where the best products for the best price.” JoAnn’s was chosen since some students had coupons.
- Create a flyer for everyone to know what will happen on November 9th.
- Create a story for the Daily Kent Stater (KSU’s newspaper).
- Create a list of materials needed.
- List included food, sign-in, materials, music, boxes for packaging and quality control. This team also suggested a pilot test. This was a helpful way to assess student’s ability.
- Create a list of criteria that each blanket needed to meet;
- Decide on packaging and deliver the boxes safely to the Harvest House. The list of criteria included:
- Cut right, neatly,
- Make the size of the solid fleece match the patterned fleece, no rips or tears, packaged and folded properly; knots should be tied tightly; and should be colorful;
- Knots should be the right size and accurately measured.
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