Confidence blooms thanks to flower shop program for students with special needs at Winnipeg school

Confidence blooms thanks to flower shop program for students with special needs at Winnipeg school

A new program at a Winnipeg high school is bringing kids with special needs together with other students to create an in-school flower shop — an innovative program that's one of the first of its kind in the province, the school says.

"It's really nice to see students from all different wavelengths coming together and working together," says Sumit Sharda, the career exploration teacher at Garden City Collegiate and creator of the program.

"It's a real proud moment for me in my teaching career."

At the beginning of March, the high school struck an agreement to receive flowers by donation from local flower supplier Petals West. The flowers are brought from a distribution centre to the school on a weekly basis.

The students then clean the flowers and put them together to create beautiful arrangements.

The finished bouquets are raffled off to eager teachers and hand-delivered to them in their classrooms every Friday. All funds from the flower raffle go to Ndinawe, a non-profit organization that helps at-risk youth in Winnipeg.

"Teachers love it, especially when we give them their flowers. It makes their day," said Grade 11 student Amber Dueck.

Dueck is the only student in the program who doesn't have special needs. But she has benefited from the program by developing her leadership skills while gaining hands-on work experience. The flower shop program has helped her find a new career path, she said.

"I unfortunately had a not-so-great experience with the [career] route I wanted to go down. And so I decided to do something different and explore my options," said Dueck.

"In the future I hope to work with delicate things for a career."

Students 'come out of their shell'

The other two students working in the flower shop are Grade 12 student Nicholas-Rozanska McCaugherty and Grade 11 student Brandi Ivison.

McCaugherty has Down syndrome, while Ivison has autism and is nonverbal.They both look to Dueck for guidance and instruction, which is something new for the usually shy student, says educational assistant Melissa Fehr, who works with the three students in the flower shop program.

"I've seen them kind of come out of their shell," says Fehr.

Fehr believes the program helps build the confidence of her students, especially the students with special needs.

"Once you get to high school, special needs are treated a little bit different. So when you have someone that's your peer telling you what to do, you take direction, it seems, a lot better than from a grown-up because they have an equal understanding."

Ivison, for her part, clearly seemed to be enjoying the work, smiling and responding enthusiastically to questions about the program as she cleaned flowers and got them ready for sale.

The flower shop is also one of the highlights of McCaugherty's school day. It's something he excitedly tells his bus driver and family about, his teachers say.

When asked about why he likes the new program, McCaugherty isn't shy to speak his mind.

"The most important thing I like to do in this program is clean the flowers."

And what does McCaugherty think about his school's flower shop?

"I think this flower program is pretty good."