At West Chicago High School, special ed students can get into the T-shirt business

  • Chrystal Valdez and Benjamin Duran prepare a heat transfer to emblazon a logo onto a T-shirt as part of WeGo Tees, a West Chicago Community High School microbusiness that teaches job skills for students from its special education transition program.

    Chrystal Valdez and Benjamin Duran prepare a heat transfer to emblazon a logo onto a T-shirt as part of WeGo Tees, a West Chicago Community High School microbusiness that teaches job skills for students from its special education transition program. Courtesy of West Chicago Community High School District 94

 
 
Updated 4/20/2021 7:22 AM

West Chicago Community High School is getting into the custom-designed T-shirt and hoodie business.

WeGo Tees is a microbusiness created especially for District 94's special education transition program. It aids students between the ages of 18 to 21 who have intellectual or developmental disabilities.

 

"For a few years now, we've been looking for something in-house that could provide the students with job and social skills," said transition coordinator and vocational specialist Jen Walker.

WeGo Tees had its soft opening this spring, with the first major job being an order of 600 "Wildcat Pride" T-shirts to be included in fall freshmen orientation kits. WeGo Tees will officially seek more jobs for designing and producing apparel for high school clubs and organizations this fall.

"Since we're relatively new, our focus now is on the students within our school," Walker said. "Our tentative goal is in the 2022-23 school year to open up to the larger community."

A grant from the Illinois Division of Rehabilitation Services helped the school purchase equipment and supplies, including a heat-press image transfer machine. Walker said any profits will go back to the school and its student services program.

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WeGo Tees' creation was also a reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic. Typically the special education transition students would be doing volunteer work out in the community at places like nursing homes or the Northern Illinois Food Bank.

For example, Lisa Ferruzza of Carol Stream said that her daughter, Ariana, previously worked at the We Grow Dreams garden center in West Chicago. But that wasn't possible in lockdown, so Ariana was grateful to have WeGo Tees work in school.

"It has been amazing for her in every way," said Lisa Ferruzza, adding that Ariana has enthusiastically taken to doing each step of the process of making and selling T-shirts.

Ferruzza also was amazed that Ariana did some voice-over work for the WeGo Tees online commercial.

"(Ariana) talks about WeGo Tees all the time," Ferruzza said. "She loves it that family members are calling her and asking questions about it."

Walker said WeGo Tees teaches important things like customer service, time management and stock taking. Walker said that some students could also be a part of the design process.

"Our program does a really good job of focusing on the individual student," Walker said. "And then adapting to what their needs are and then helping them to be successful."

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