Unique Apparel, Student-Run Business at Heritage High

— Mason Lipman • mason.lipman@rolesvillebuzz.com • March 2017

Heritage High School Teachers Create New Opportunities for their Special Needs Students

Heritage High School teachers Suzy McCabe and Christie D’Amore teach their special needs students a variety of skills. When the teaching duo encountered challenges finding off-campus opportunities for the students, they put their own problem-solving skills to work and came up with an on-campus solution.

The project, Unique Apparel, was cultivated from the need for their students to have a location where they can receive job training. The students are given the opportunity to do what’s called community-based vocational training, which lets them spend time off their campus volunteering in order to get work experience.

“That’s just part of the high school program,” D’Amore said. “Two years ago, Suzy and I were trying to find different locations for our students to volunteer, and we had a lot of businesses turn us down. So we started brainstorming what we could do on our own, what we could do internally and came up with the idea to start their own retail business that is located within the school.”

Unique Apparel - Heritage High School

Heritage High School’s special needs students and their teachers celebrate Unique Apparel’s February 14 ribbon cutting with Wake Forest Mayor Vivian Jones (center) and Principal Scott Lyons Lyons (second from right). Photo by Kathy Fuerst.

McCabe found a grant that they could apply for, a Wake Education Partnership grant that is specifically for students with autism, and Jim Burrows, Heritage’s carpentry/shop teacher, helped design and build the mobile store.

Unique Apparel is a mobile vending cart that is located in the commons area of Heritage High School and is open during the school’s three lunch hours. It is run by students from McCabe’s and D’Amore’s classes, who check the inventory, work the register and maintain the cart during business hours. Aside from being a viable option for vocational training that is on the campus and specifically for special needs students, Unique Apparel has already shown some social benefits for McCabe’s and D’Amore’s students.

“It’s given our students the opportunity to interact with other people,” said D’Amore, who has taught in a variety of special education classrooms in Virginia for two years and Wake County for five.

Although she readily acknowledges that the student body of Heritage High School is supportive of special needs students, Unique Apparel has helped to make the student body more aware of their classmates in special education classes.

Unique Apparel - Heritage High School

Photo courtesy of Suzy McCabe
The Unique Apparel shop at Heritage High school
also sold roses on Valentine’s Day.

The T-shirt that Unique Apparel sells is the winning design of a contest that was led by the school’s art club and included designs submitted by anyone who was interested. The student body then voted on the designs, and the winning design became the first item available for purchase at Unique Apparel.

“The first thing we sold was the T-shirts. We bought 300 of those, and we’ve sold about 100 so far,” said McCabe, who has been teaching special education for the past 20 years, “give or take a few years that I took off when I had my third child,” and has been teaching at Heritage High School for the past three years.

Since starting with the T-shirt, the teachers have surveyed the student body to get advice about what Unique Apparel should add to its inventory.

“The biggest vote so far has been socks, so that might be our next venture, and we’ll probably sell sweatshirts in the fall,” McCabe said.

Unique Apparel opened for business on February 14 in Heritage’s commons area, and the student body showed their support for their special needs classmates by purchasing roses for Valentine ’s Day.

“We sold 400 roses on opening day, and it was just really cool to see the student body interact with our students,” McCabe said.