The first-ever Warrior Holiday Bazaar on Saturday provides Christmas shopping opportunities and boosts programming for intellectually disabled students at Portage High School.
What it accomplishes beyond that might surprise some people.
“So many times I have been told that we are saints for working with our population, which baffles me,” said special education assistant Heather Budka, who oversees nine IDS students at the school. She organized the bazaar that will feature 38 vendors, to be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Bartels Middle School.
“I don’t see my students as any different than any other student in the building. I wish people could see that,” she said. “They don’t need to be scared or intimidated by them. If people would get to know them, they would see what wonderful people they really are.”
Vendors include crafters, artists, photographers and local businesses selling items like clothing, books, purses and bags, wood signs, jewelry, cosmetics, soaps, hair products, candles, home decorations, essential oils, knitting and crocheting pieces.
IDS students will be on hand selling Portage Warrior bags, handmade ornaments and holiday treats. They also will operate a concession stand.
Proceeds from vendor fees will help to fund activities and field trips for the IDS classroom at Portage High School. The school hopes the bazaar is successful enough to continue for years to come, said special education assistant Becky Kopfhamer.
Recent field trips and activities have included trips to Leatherberry Acres pumpkin patch in Baraboo, Costco in the Madison area to learn about big-box stores and the Portage Fire Department. IDS students also perform cooking in the classroom. Students are provided with a budget to shop for the goods themselves in local grocery stores. They also regularly volunteer for the Second Harvest Food Bank and Columbia County Humane Society.
“Sometimes it’s not possible for them to do (these activities) in their home life, so we like to get them out as much as possible,” Kopfhamer said. Activities and the bazaar itself, she added, get IDS students interacting with the community and improve their money and communication skills.
Kopfhamer and Budka work with students who function below the norm in math and communication, “skills that are essential for them to get jobs,” Kopfhamer said. Some IDS students attend regular classes in the school, some don’t. IDS students, ages 13 to 18, possess a variety of abilities and disabilities like autism or Angelman syndrome. Though IDS students learn differently than others, they’re “just like anyone else.”
“They really can do more than they’re perceived to do,” Kopfhamer said. Classes that IDS students attend include automotive, animal science, art, family and consumer education and health, specially designed art and physical education.
Additionally, Portage High School’s Transition Program serves intellectually disabled students of ages 18-21, preparing them for living in the community. They hold jobs and perform volunteer work, the school helping to prepare them for “living in a variety of settings based on (their) needs,” Budka said.
Transition students will also attend Saturday’s bazaar, selling dips, mixes and ceramic trays that they made.
“For all, the goal is maximum independence, just like for all students exiting the Portage Schools programs,” Budka said. “They want and need the same things that everyone wants and needs.
“They want to be loved. They want to be respected. They want to be treated fairly and equally, as does everyone. They should be seen for their abilities and not their disabilities.”