Schools have long touted service learning and community service projects as important tools for cultivating citizens. At Ditmas IS 62, Special Educator Stephanie Franzese and a team of colleagues have integrated an onsite student thrift store into the everyday schedule of their Title I middle school.
Rather than learning abstractly what community service entails, students in grade 7 at Ditmas run their own thrift store during school daytime periods in a specific room dedicated to this purpose. How could a 900+ student public school find the time, space, administrative approval and staff support to offer 12-year-olds a chance to function as socially active citizens helping peers and families within the IS 62 community?
The idea of a student-run thrift shop evolved from educator Franzese's own middle school memories. During her middle school years, Ms. Franzese's family went through difficult financial issues and she learned never to waste anything. Her fashion consciousness led her to thrift shops for bargain and vintage clothing.
Besides being a favorite hangout, this shopping experience created pleasant memories of a positive community atmosphere that came with thrift shopping. Ms. Franzese wanted her Title I middle-grade students to experience this same social, emotional, and fashion-friendly ritual as she had savored it.
When she was an educator at Long Beach High School, Ms. Franzese and her special needs students went into the community to work at restaurants, stores and other community-based organizations. Her observations of the emotional and career readiness gains her high school students had achieved made her see the value of a vocational experience at middle school as well.
In a public school system just beginning to reset to normal, the concept of a field trip to a thrift shop was not going to be possible. But as a consequence of the pandemic, Ditmas's student register dropped like so many other schools and suddenly had unused classrooms.
Ms. Franzese and her colleagues Mr. Snyder, Ms. Meade, Ms. Gregus, and Mr. Carideo realized that not only did they have students who wanted to help others by opening a store, they also had the needed space for store and inventory. With a "lease" approval of the Principal, Ms. Santiago, AP, Ms. Bortle, and Dean, Ms. Beck, the thrift-store "pop-up" was established in a room close to Ms. Franzese's official class.
Mr. Snyder, an ELA teacher on the team, suggested Trends as the store name because of the dynamic use of this word in the media. Not only did this encourage potential middle-grade customers it met the instructional "trend" of engaging students in hands-on thrift shopping routines and the actual work of running a store.
Ms. Mathis, a UFT representative, endorsed the project through her own personal donations. Staff, students, and families also made donations. Ms. Franzese emphasized "repurposing" and "upcycling" as the Trends student staff retagged, folded, classified/grouped and organized the inventory. The bulletin board outside Ms. Franzese's classroom was used to advertise the new store and Mr. Carideo designed and developed the Ditmas Trends website to support student efforts.
The unofficial opening of the Trends store, which was operated by Ditmas students to serve Ditmas peers, took place just before the Thanksgiving break. This provided a safe space to practice the skills necessary for supporting the store, including stocking and labeling inventory, setting up the space, customer service, marketing and a range of other tasks necessary to support an ongoing business enterprise.
The store is now open to 300 middle-schoolers by appointment. It is stocked and staffed by 18 self-nominated young citizens from third through seventh grade classrooms, including special needs.
While thrift shops take credit cards and cash in the real world, this was not viable for our diverse students. Ditmas uses PBIS tickets with a range of values as awards, so students use these to make store transactions. This gives additional meaning to the PBIS award points as students use them to purchase items they want personally or as gifts for others.
As the Trends teacher team supervised the store and students worked in it, both quickly realized other educational and social-emotional outcomes, such as the real-life application of math concepts, environmental conservation, and celebration of cultures and lifestyles. For example, Ms. Franzese engaged seventh-graders in a related math project that involved creating a budget for an item they wished to produce and sell at the store.
"What compelled me emotionally was the fact that I was helping the school and doing something I enjoy, working with technology. I was creating something." - Liam
"I was motivated to be a team member because this store was repurposing so many clothes. As I work at the store, I learn routines and methods that will help me in my future." - Tanisha
"I became a staffer of Ditmas Trends because I wanted to see something being built from the bottom up. I wanted to be on the inside and experience how a store starts as nothing and becomes an entity through work." - Colin
Ditmas Trends helps teachers like Ms. Franzese meet her classroom goals of imparting content knowledge and specific academic skills while building social skills, career readiness, empathy, and goal-setting abilities. Shopping at this student-staffed store provides positive consequences for shoppers, their families, student staff, adult facilitators, and the entire school culture.
The Trends thrift shop models the power of students serving their peer community. Because it is both on-site and real world, it provides seamless citizenship training minus the paperwork and logistics of external field trips to the business community. Students can and will make this non-profit thrift store model happen right now!
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