From left to right: Students Stantone James, Aiden Hunter, Daniyal Ashraf and Adam Spadoni pose at the Nest’s entrance on opening day.

Free Store at Pauline Johnson Gives Life Skills Students Valuable Learning Opportunities  

MONDAY, APR. 25, 2022


he COVID-19 pandemic has required everyone to re-envision how we learn and connect with our school communities, and that’s been especially true for students in the Special Education Life Skills class at Pauline Johnson Collegiate and Vocational School. The pandemic brought several changes to the program, and students found themselves missing the usual connections to the wider community. Outings and trips had provided crucial opportunities to build communication, vocational and other important life skills. With much of the world suddenly shuttered, enabling those opportunities again would take some creative thinking. 

Above: Aiden Hunter eyes the Nest inventory.

“That’s how the idea for the Nest was born,” says educational assistant Robin Sweers, who works with the Life Skills class and helped students brainstorm. “Some of our students remembered visiting and volunteering at the Wish Closet at Major Ballachey school, and we knew that other schools in Grand Erie had started their own versions of this great program, so we felt that now was an opportune time to bring our own version to life.”

The idea of the Nest is straightforward, but the learning opportunities are rich: staff and students at the school can donate new and gently used clothing items to find a second life with visitors to the store where everything is free. Life Skills students run the store, receiving donations, getting the items ready for display by laundering, sorting and folding them, and organizing the shelves and racks to ensure visitors can find what they’re looking for. Also available is a selection of personal care items such as soap, shampoo, deodorant, and toothpaste for any student who wants to stop in. The store is open before and after school as well as during the lunch period. Student staff members are at the ready during operating hours to assist with finding sizes or particular items, building strong customer-service skills in the process.  

Above: Stantone James folds an item of clothing.

“We used our skills to organize the racks and shelves and set the room up to look like a store,” explains Adam Spadoni, a student in the class. “And we used our life skills to sort, fold and hang all the donated items we received.”

With so much clothing waste ending up in landfills, the Nest has also shown students and the wider school community how powerful repurposing items can be. Every shelf, rack and table used in the Nest has also been repurposed. 

“We used our communication skills to talk to staff in the school and they helped us find shelves and racks that we could use,” says Stantone James, another student in the class. “We have everything you might need from dresses to jeans, hoodies and T-shirts, coats and shoes too.” 

The store celebrated its official opening last month with a ribbon-cutting ceremony, and with that came the chance to build another set of skills as students launched a marketing plan to advertise what the Nest is all about. 

Above: Adam Spadoni re-stocks a store shelf in the Nest.

“Students got an email to let them know about the Nest,” said Life Skills student Lexy Walker, adding that they’re thinking about further marketing opportunities. “Outfit of the week videos, posters, announcements, and word of mouth help us advertise.” 

Efforts like the Nest bolster Grand Erie’s mission to build a culture of learning, well-being and belonging to inspire each learner. Nurturing students’ curiosity and opportunity supports equitable, inclusive and responsive environments, in line with it’s multi-year strategic plan.

“The Nest has given the Life Skills students an opportunity to make positive contributions to the Pauline Johnson community,” adds Sweers. “It’s also given them back the chance to interact with all students, and to be included in the greater school community – so that’s a wonderful thing to come out of the pandemic.”