Special needs student adds special touch to local business

From left: Nancy Morgan, her daughter Alexis, and Vintage Petals co-owner Julie Pachala pose on the steps of the shop. Alexis works at the tea and flower shop two days a week. – Stephen Dafoe Photo

By Stephen Dafoe

Morinville – Sitting at a table in Vintage Petals Tea House, a smile on her face as bright as the sun shining through the window, MCHS graduate Alexis Morgan-Taylor works away creating gift bags for the local tea house / flower shop. She meticulously examines the company labels to make sure they have the required hole punched in them. She rhythmically stretches the ribbon off the roll to make sure it is flat and of the right length. Cutting the ribbon, she rolls it between her fingers to get just the right point to slide the ribbon through the card in order to affix it to the bag. She ends the presentation with the flourish of a well-tied bow. Although a task of this nature may be routine for many, it is an opportunity for Miss Morgan-Taylor to gain work experience for herself and to provide the tea house, its owners and customers an opportunity to meet a special young woman.

Alexis was born with Down’s Syndrome and has a hearing impairment, and while she functions academically at about a Grade 2 level, it has not hindered her in being a valued addition to the staff at Vintage Petals or in her desires to go beyond high school.

The MCHS student has spent the school year working two days a week for two hours a day at the shop. Owners Noreen Radford and Julie Puchala decided they would like her to stay on over the summer, and she currently works at the shop Mondays and Tuesdays.

“I do the gift bags and I make the labels,” Alexis said of her work at Vintage Petals, adding she also helps serve food to customers and helps with the teas and other activities. But of all the work, it is the gift bags that most appeal to the young lady and her creative side.

Puchala, co-owner of the shop is pleased to have Alexis and her positive outlook as part of the staff. “It’s great having Alexis here,” she said. “It keeps us on our toes. She always comes in with a smile, so it makes our day.”

Alexis mother, Nancy Morgan, said she was thrilled with Morinville Community High School’s work experience program, particularly the efforts of teacher Terry Maslyk. “He went around at the beginning of the year and talked to a bunch of the local businesses to find positions for all the special [needs] kids, she said. “I can’t say enough about them because as he found businesses that were willing to take some of these young people, they really put a lot of effort into making the right fit. They really fit the students to the jobs, and it was so successful this year.”

All part of inclusive program

Mrs. Morgan said she is pleased with the overall educational program the school provided for her daughter, a program that combines math and science with a language arts and social studies curriculum. The predominant feature of Alexis’ program is a focus on math and language arts, two studies that contribute to the all-important life skills. “All the kids’ programs are pretty much tailor made, not in a lump,” she said, adding the program includes speech classes, work experience, and even an opportunity to assist in the school’s Snack Shack for additional career-focused experience. “The math, for her, has been very monetary focused.”

One of the ways math is blended with life skills is combining some cooking skills with budget and shopping skills. If it is determined spaghetti is what is to be made, Alexis and her fellow students will examine the latest store flyer to determine the ingredients and ensure they can be bought within budget. They then visit the store, purchase the ingredients, and return to the school to prepare the meal. “Everything has really just been linked,” Mrs. Morgan-Taylor said. “Nothing is an isolated subject.”

Although the program teaches Alexis and other special needs students valuable life skills to allow them to cope in their adult life, it is art that particularly appeals to her at school. “I got very good for art this year,” Alexis said. “I like painting. I paint birds, baby birds. Mother bird and baby birds. And a baby cat and a baby polar bear.”

Further learning ahead

Having completed Grade 12 this year, Alexis is planning to return to MCHS in the fall for some additional upgrading before hopefully attending college. “I’m going to go to Edmonton with my best friend, Chelsea,” Alexis said of her future educational plans.

The move to college would see Alexis obtaining a Transfer to Employment Certificate, a program that enhances and builds on the life skills and work experience lessons she has developed at MCHS and Vintage Petals this past year.

The program is offered at a handful of colleges in Alberta, providing a tailored program for the student that mixes work experience with classroom time, the latter to fine tune life skills and the skills that will be needed on the job.

But while Alexis’ return to MCHS in the fall will undoubtedly put her further on the path to college, the return is not all about learning a little more. “I’m going back to school to pick up my year book,” Alexis said. “Last year was grad.”

Above: MCHS work experience student Alexis Morgan-Taylor applies her creative skill making gift bags at Vintage Petals Tea House. – Stephen Dafoe Photo

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  1. Thank you SO much for this very-well written article about my youngest grand-daughter Alexis. Alexis, even from birth, has always amazed her family, and continues to do so as she develops into a young woman. Her personality speaks volumes as to her relationships with virtually anyone she meets. Having a Down Syndrome child in our family has brought to each of us an appreciation of abilities that are not obvious to the casual viewer, and we couldn’t be more proud of her.

    I would like to thank, as well, the merchant community of Morinville for the support they’re willing to extend to such Special Needs young people. Sincerely, Edith Morgan

  2. I’m very proud of Alexis not as a classmate at MCHS, but as a valuable friend and I hope to see her with Chelsi here in Edmonton. Bravo Alexis ^_^

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