One-Stop Teaching/Working Model is the Only One of Its Kind in the U.S. for College-Degree Seeking Students with Autism
Selling everything from grab-n’-go items to toothpaste, a one-of-a-kind convenience store has just opened in West Chester on South High Street. West Chester University’s Ram Shop includes the staffing of degree-seeking WCU students who have autism. The new store is the students’ training ground to learn critical job skills that can be applied directly to any empowering work setting, and is the only teaching-model of its kind in the U.S. for college-degree seeking students who are on the autism spectrum. The Ram Shop is the direct result of a partnership between the University’s Dub-C Autism Program (D-CAP) and Student Services, Inc. (SSI). A formal ribbon-cutting ceremony will take place this Friday, September 6, at 11 a.m. at the Ram Shop, 20 Linden Street in West Chester. West Chester University President Chris Fiorentino and Chair of the Board of Directors for Student Services, Inc. Bernie Carrozza will be among those speaking and cutting the ribbon.
The one-of-a-kind teaching/working model is comprised of two floors that have dedicated outcomes. The store’s second level functions as a day-to-day student support program (named D-CAP) where students work intently on living-learning goals, study, perform group activities, and have sensory-free areas. The first level, now officially named the Ram Shop, functions as a hands-on training ground for the students to practice and master the social/professional skills needed to work effectively.
As an inclusive program, the store is WCU student run and employs two types of D-CAP students who are on the autism spectrum: paid D-CAP students, and volunteers who will be D-CAP students learning the work-readiness skills needed to eventually be employed in the store or across campus. In addition, other WCU student employees who do not have autism are being hired and will participate in sensitivity training on how to work effectively with those who have autism.
“We believe that if a student is accepted to West Chester University, it is our responsibility to do whatever we can to help that student succeed,” said West Chester University President Chris Fiorentino. “The Ram Shop is just one example of how our access mission is being implemented. This University is truly committed to helping students achieve success and cross the finish line. Student Services, Inc. shares this goal, and we are deeply grateful that they have, once again, jumped in eagerly to provide the resources that our students need.”
Student Services, Inc. is a natural partner for the project. “SSI recognizes that students have various types of need, and we want to make a significant difference in their lives,” said SSI Chair of the Board of Directors Bernie Carrozza. “SSI welcomes the opportunity to provide a positive working environment that can act as the students’ very first training ground. All of us support the drive and determination of these students to secure a college education. ”
Many areas of the University have also come together to make the Ram Shop a reality. Assistant Professor of Graphic + Interactive Deign Scotty Reifsnyder’s Design for Social Good art class was tasked with designing murals for two sites on campus that provide community service and inclusion; one mural was for the Ram Shop and the other mural was for the WCU Resource Pantry. The Ram Shop now features a mural created by student designers Kayla Degenshein and Taylor Goad. In addition, chaired by D-CAP student Sean Bastian, a group of D-CAP students designed a special T-shirt that has been selected to be sold in the store; the front of the yellow T-shirt reads, “The Autistic Voice.” All proceeds from the T-shirt sales will go toward the funding of D-CAP social activities.