From beaded bracelets to Disney: Cullman special education students learn new skills while fundraising

Kristen Tanner’s Cullman Middle School class (Christy Perry for The Cullman Tribune) 

CULLMAN, Ala. – Special education students from Cullman Middle and Cullman High School are using their creativity and talents to help raise money for a trip to Walt Disney World in February 2022. The students are taking orders for trendy personalized beaded bracelets and business is booming! 

Kristen Tanner, special education teacher at Cullman Middle School, said that this is one of several fundraisers planned to help make the special trip possible. Tanner shared, “We went to Disney last year, right before COVID hit. We got to go and take our kids to Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios.” The trip included 7-12 grade special education students.  

The trip was more than just seeing It’s A Small World or Space Mountain. “One of the biggest things is Disney set up a class for the kids to learn how to work at Disney World. For kids with disabilities, to see how they employ people with disabilities and that they can actually have a job in the most magical place on earth was the coolest thing, said Tanner.  

The children were shown how the park accommodates employees with disabilities. They were also taught how to fill out applications and other life skills that would be beneficial to them in the future. The hope is to take the special education students to Disney each year for this unique opportunity.  

Many of the students who made the trip in 2020 had never been to Disney or on a plane. “It helps them overcome a whole lot of fears and helps them gain a lot of independence, which is one of the biggest things we work on in our classroom and in the high school’s special education classroom is gaining independence. Going somewhere that big and having to navigate a million people, big crowds like that can be overstimulating for our kids, but they did it! They learned to wait in lines and it was a big deal. It really helped a lot of them mature, being able to do something like that. So, it is something we really want to be able to do every year.”  

“It also helped them have a glimpse of living independently with a roommate, a little bit. We had to pair them with their peers in a room to be able to sleep in the house we were in. They had to learn how to coexist with somebody else in a bedroom with them and not just with their parents, but with a friend. They kind of got an idea of what it would be like to live with a roommate and it was cool that we were getting to facilitate that for them.”  

As for the upcoming trip, Tanner said, “This year we are going to have about 50 people total that we are taking with students, parents, teachers and administrators. It is about $1,000 a person for them to go and that includes their food. They fly on a plane so it includes their plane ticket, their housing and park tickets. It includes everything for them to be able to go. When you do the math, we are trying to raise about $50,000.” 

In previous years, the middle school students ran a coffee delivery service at their school to help raise money; however, they have not been allowed to deliver coffee since the pandemic began. The hope is to bring the service back whenever possible.  

Tanner and the staff at the schools look for ideas that can help raise money and can also help teach the students real life skills. The bracelets do just that. Tanner said, “Most of our students struggle with fine motor skills, so stringing beads is one of the best things to help strengthen those fine motor skills. They are getting to work with that too and strengthen their muscles. They are also having to do math. They are having to figure out: how much does the bracelet cost? How much do they pay? How much of a profit have we made? How much did the beads cost? And all that kind of stuff.” 

She continued, “They are having to do functional mathematics with that which is the coolest thing. They are also having to make sure that with spelling and reading, are they spelling the name correctly? Is it going in the correct order? Patterns-one side has the look the same as the other side or it doesn’t look good.” The project encompasses almost every subject needed.  

Currently, the class has received orders for close to 250 bracelets and are still taking orders. Tanner reminds those who order that it can take a bit longer for the students to complete an order, so please be patient. “The turnaround is not as quick as it would be if you ordered from a business, but it’s for a really good cause and cheaper than it would be on Etsy,” Tanner smiled. 

Bead supplies have been running low, especially with gold and silver lettering, so Tanner warns that those orders may take a bit longer. She and others have been traveling to Hobby Lobby and other craft stores hoping to gather the needed beads, often paying out of pocket for the supplies. “My instructional assistants, myself and my parents are driving to Gardendale stores and Decatur stores just to get these beads! It’s hard on a teacher’s salary, but these kids are worth it. Just seeing their smiles and the confidence they gain from this kind of trip, it’s worth paying out of pocket for some beads,” Tanner said.  

Tanner said, “We are going to be doing a whole lot more fundraisers hopefully as the next year comes around. Now that there is a vaccine, it seems like the numbers are slowing down a bit more. Hopefully, we will be able to do school dances and pageants and fun stuff like that.” One of the main sources of funding comes from sponsorships. Tanner explained, “A lot of businesses will sponsor a student or a couple of students, but we really haven’t gotten around to asking them yet. So many of our small businesses were impacted so hard by COVID. We are hoping that people will make a comeback and we will be able to get some sponsorships.”  

Orders can be placed by emailing and when ready, the bracelets can be picked up at the Cullman Middle School office. Payment can be cash or check. Prices are: 

Bundle of three with gold or silver letters- $15 

Bundle of three with black letters- $12 

Single bracelet with gold or silver letters- $7 

Single bracelet with black letters- $5 

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