Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Woodlawn Community Academy's special needs students learn skills in tiny store

CLEARWATER — The Swanky Swine was open for business.

Customers in line held their dollars while perusing the merchandise. They watched as workers tallied up the sales and counted back change.

Some of the shoppers bought a candy bar or bag of chips. Others were ready to guzzle a Swanky Swale, the store's premier beverage made of pink lemonade and Sprite.

In between transactions, the employees, all special needs students enrolled in the transitions program at the private Woodlawn Community Academy, talked about their inventory.

"We've sold a lot of hot chocolate,'' said Logan Barham, 19.

They also talked about what they plan to do with their profit.

"This will warm your heart,'' said Marlena Williams, 17. "We're donating some of the money we make to an orphanage in Thailand.''

And they showed teamwork.

"We need to help each other out when we work the cash register,'' said Dimitri Tyner, 16.

Finding a job after graduation is a challenge for everyone, but it is even more daunting for the 10 high school students enrolled in the transitions program at Woodlawn, said program director Jennifer Tollefson.

Tollefson's students, ages 15 to 21, have disabilities including autism, Asperger's syndrome and Down syndrome. They are all on track to receive a special diploma instead of a standard one.

The transitions program teaches valuable lessons like counting money, budgeting and cooking. To help students make a transition to the workforce, Tollefson started the Swanky Swine store at the school, named for a pink piggy bank used in math class.

"There's not really a lot of options once these kids leave high school unless we are really intentional with job skills," said Tollefson, 34.

She began with simple lessons in math, creating exercises to help the students learn how to count change. "I realized they needed to learn how to count mixed coins, and that took a while,'' she said.

Eventually, she taught them about budgeting. "I'd ask them to work out a problem like, you have this amount of money to buy groceries. What would you buy?'' she said.

And finally, she had them put together the merchandise to sell in Swanky Swine.

"We have different students do different tasks each day. Some restock when the store opens, while others work as cashiers. They take turns,'' she said.

For now, the Swanky Swine store is tiny, offering snacks and beverages to the school's 95 K-12 students. It is open on Wednesday and Friday afternoons. However, in the near future, Tollefson aims to take it up a notch.

"Depending on funding, we'd like to add to Swanky Swine a program like a catering business,'' said Tollefson, who previously worked in nonprofit administration in Chattanooga and holds a master's degree in business from the University of Tennessee. "Maybe we could do something like making box lunches for other private schools who don't have a lunch program.''

Tollefson began working at the school last fall at the urging of her mother, Charlotte Tollefson, the school administrator. Charlotte had special inspiration for her work with special needs students: her son Kevin, 33, who has severe Asperger's syndrome and still lives at home.

"It was Kevin who led me down this path,'' Charlotte said.

The annual tuition for Woodlawn Community Academy, located on Woodlawn Street in south Clearwater, starts at $7,700, although additional fees are applied depending on individual programs.

Most of the special needs students, who make up about 70 percent of the student body, receive the McKay Scholarship, a government program to help special needs students pay tuition at private schools.

"Whether you're regular education, you're gifted or you have special needs, here you are able to work at your individual level,'' said Charlotte, 55.

After he sold several cups of hot chocolate, Logan Barham talked about what he's learned from working in Swanky Swine.

"Before, I had trouble counting change, and the way (Swanky Swine) is set up, you actually learn how to make change by giving it out. I was not good at it before,'' he said.

Lexie Palermo, 18, believes Swanky Swine has spurred her creativity. "We think about what we want in the store. It's taught us how to think of ideas.''

Piper Castillo can be reached at [email protected]

.Fast facts

Woodlawn Community Academy

• Woodlawn Community Academy, 845 Woodlawn St., Clearwater, is a private, nondenominational Christian school. The school first opened in 1999. Its offerings include both regular and special education for kindergarten through high school. For more information, call (727) 584-8916.

• The Friends of Woodlawn Charity Golf Classic will be held on May 4 at the Belleview Biltmore Golf Club, 1501 Indian Rocks Road. There will be a shotgun start at 1 p.m. Registration for individual players is $125. The price includes 18 holes of golf and dinner. Sponsorships are also available. Proceeds will benefit the school. For more information, visit

Woodlawn Community Academy's special needs students learn skills in tiny store 04/16/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 16, 2013 6:30pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Google parent leads $1B Lyft investment, deepening Uber rift


    SAN FRANCISCO — Google's parent company is throwing its financial support behind ride-hailing service Lyft, deepening its rift with market leader Uber.

    This  file photo shows a smartphone displaying the Lyft app.Google's parent company, Alphabet Inc., is throwing its financial support behind ride-hailing service Lyft, deepening its rift with market leader Uber. [Associated Press, 2016]
  2. Check out what this former Buc has cooking in Buffalo


    Leonard Johnson is thrilled to extend his NFL career in Buffalo this season, but whenever his playing days are over, the former Bucs cornerback is ready for life after football.

    He's actually pretty excited.

    Buffalo Bills cornerback Leonard Johnson catches a pass during an NFL football training camp in Pittsford, N.Y., Saturday, July 29, 2017. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)
  3. Editorial: Arrests show construction licensing board's faults


    Ripping off consumers got a little harder in Pinellas County this week after teams of deputies launched a predawn operation and arrested unlicensed contractors. It was a needed crackdown on a problem that appears rampant in Pinellas because the agency charged with overseeing local contractors has no policing …

    Ripping off consumers got a little harder in Pinellas County this week after teams of deputies executed a predawn operation, arresting unlicensed contractors.
  4. Dade City teen arrested after authorities say he pulled fake gun on student


    DADE CITY — A 14-year-old boy faces felony charges after he pulled a fake gun on a Pasco Middle School student near the school Wednesday afternoon, according to authorities.

  5. Live blog: Crowd shouts at Richard Spencer as he speaks in Gainesville


    GAINESVILLE — A small army of law enforcement officers, many of them from cities and counties around the state, have converged on the University of Florida in preparation for today's speaking appearance by white nationalist Richard Spencer.

    Florida Highway Patrol cruisers jammed the parking lot Wednesday at the Hilton University of Florida Conference Center in Gainesville, part of a big show of force by law enforcement ahead of Thursday's appearance by white nationalist Richard Spencer. [KATHRYN VARN | Times]