Candy factory helps students with life skills
Students at Helen J. Stewart School wait all year for October to roll around.
That’s when the Nibbles Candy Factory opens in Evan Smith’s classroom and students clamor for the opportunity to work the assembly lines packaging bags of Halloween candy.
Any student at the special school, wh nike id ich has students with moderate, severe and profound retardation, is eligible to work on the month long fund raising project.
“There is a job for everyone,” said principal Lenny Proctor. “We have one student working in the factory who is in a whe nike id elchair with very limited mobility, but there’s a job for him.”
On a recent visit to Smith’s classroom, about 20 students sat at tables in groups and diligently assembled packages of five pieces of candy in plastic bags.
One group stapled the Nibbles Candy Factory custom label to the packages and another assembled 20 packages into large shopping bags for distribution to local schools and businesses.
The students learn sequencing skills, independence and responsibility through their jobs in the factory.
Smith explained that most of the students are considered non verbal, but it’s not uncommon for several students each year to verbally communicate as a result of their jobs.
“A lot of the kids become more verbal,” Smith said. “When the candy trays are empty, they have to let me know they need more,” she said. “They’ll come up to me and say words that I never expected them to.”
Teacher Linda Barnes, who has been bringing her students into Smith’s classroom to assemble the bags of candy for the past three years, said she sees lots of progress in her students while working on the project.
“I see progress in things like fine motor skills and cooperation. They work in group settings but they’re still responsible for individual tasks,” Barnes said.
In addition to the vocational skills the students learn, Smith said working in the candy factory becomes a social experience the children look forward to, and many return to work each October year after year. One student has been with Nibbles Candy Factory for seven years.
“I find that they maintain the skills they have learned here. When they come back in (each y nike id ear) they will tell me what job they want to do,” said Smith.
This is the 10th year Smith has operated the candy factory and she expects to make about a $2,000 profit from this year’s project. All the money raised is used to finance field trips to places like Mount Charleston and museums, and other extras throughout the year for students that work in the factory.
Just like any other factory worker, Nibbles workers get paid. Every Friday, students receive a quarter and the privilege of going to the school vending machines and buying their choice of juice or soda.
“Getting money to go down and buy their own soda is a big incentive for them,” Smith said.
In addition, workers often receive bonus pay. “If they work good and are pleasant on a certain day, they get a soda that day, too,” said Smith.
Teacher’s assistant Christy Huntsman and substitute aide Al Engebertson agree that seeing the pleasure the children get out of earning their own money is one of the biggest rewards of the program.
“It’s a benefit to them to earn their own money and to be able to go out in the community and participate in things they normally wouldn’t be able to participate in,” Huntsman said.
“The kids know they’re working for a reason,” said Barnes. “We do things like go bowling every Friday, they understand they’re working to pay for these things.”
The Halloween candy packages sell for 15 c nike id ents each, and will be available at the school until Tuesday.