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Special Ed brings cheer to school with happy grams and catering

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Originally published on April 22, 2015

From L-R, Grayson Kop, Tommy Luo, paraprofessional Vicki Phillips, Giancarlo Martinez, Weilun Yuan and CAT teacher Dottie Kiramichyan holding their handmade Happy Grams. Photo by Aida Irving

French mathematician Blaise Pascal once said, “Kind words do not cost much. Yet they accomplish much.” With this idea, special education classes have taken a stance to promote positivity and kindness throughout the school with handmade and hand-delivered inspirational messages for students and staff.

These messages are a new service called Happy Grams that features famous quotes and colorful drawings. They have been available for purchase in the main office’s Happy Gram box for $2 each since Feb. 18 and can be sent to anyone in the school.

“I think there is so much stress here at Lowell that we needed to spread some cheer.”

Happy Grams are created by students in Club Access, which aims to integrate special education students more fully into the rest of the school community. The students are in Community Access Transition, a district program that aims to teach life skills to 18- to 22-year-olds with special needs, according to CAT special education teacher Dottie Kiramichyan.

Kiramichyan originally came up with the idea for Happy Grams. “I think there is so much stress here at Lowell that we needed to spread some cheer,” she said. “Also, the students in the population I serve are often on the sidelines of the community at large and at Lowell, so I wanted to increase their involvement in the community.”

Kiramichyan decided to implement Happy Grams in particular because she liked the idea of delivering something handmade in a world that has become technology-oriented. “With youth these days, everything is electronic, but things like text messages may be easily forgotten about,” she said. “Getting something handmade is especially poignant and lovely.”

The program has been running smoothly, with 35 orders placed as of April 15, according to Kiramichyan.

“I got one Happy Gram in particular from a student that I wasn’t expecting it from, and it made me feel that what I do for students does make a difference.”

Students who have received Happy Grams gave positive feedback. “I felt so touched and thankful when I got one in reg,” junior Pamela Dang said. “School can be really difficult for everyone, so it’s nice to get an uplifting message during the day.”

Purchases from Happy Grams from students and staff members have raised $70 as of April 15, according to Kiramichyan. The money will be used for field trips to places like museums or shows. “I want to use field trips as a way for my students to participate in and experience a cultural environment,” she said.

Principal Andrew Ishibashi expressed his support and stated that he plans to distribute $100 worth of Happy Grams to students, teachers, parents and staff members. “I got one Happy Gram in particular from a student that I wasn’t expecting it from, and it made me feel that what I do for students does make a difference,” Ishibashi said. “I think Happy Grams will be here for a long time.”

Club Access president student Jordan Russell said that she enjoys the meaning behind these uplifting messages. “I gave some to my teachers and it made me feel good to know that I could make someone’s day with nice words,” Russell said.

Special education students in Life Skills and Career Preparation courses are also participating more at school by operating the Cardinal Catering Snack Cart in faculty and staff offices during Blocks 3, 4, 6 and 7, according to Special Education teacher Margaret Michels. The cart began operating in Jan. 2015 and sells an array of foods that are either made by students or purchased at local grocery stores. Students have gained skills like customer service, money management and grocery shopping, according to Michels.

“Our biggest obstacle at the moment is keeping up with demand!”

The Snack Cart does not aim to make a profit. Instead, money from purchases will go towards covering the costs of food for the Cart. For example, the Cart was able to begin selling coffee because its profits covered the costs of a coffee machine. If there is money left over at the end of the year, it will go towards funding a field trip for the students.

English teacher Cathy Innis expressed her appreciation for the snack cart. “It’s nice to have food delivered to us while we’re working,” Innis stated in an email. “The students are learning how to sell the snacks and make change and they are becoming more confident with every passing day, so it’s a positive interaction all around.”

So far, the program has been successful, according to Michels. “The students are doing a fantastic job operating it, and the service has been well-received by faculty and staff,” Michels said. “Our biggest obstacle at the moment is keeping up with demand!”

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Special Ed brings cheer to school with happy grams and catering