Student-staffed Pirate Plaza helps Morro Bay teens in need

acornejo@thetribunenews.comOctober 16, 2013 

Alanna Williams, 18, picks up a black collared shirt from the table and puts it on a hanger. The next step is to hang it on a clothing rack, but learning the process takes time, a little prompting and the patience of her peers.

A pre-programmed app on her iPad, called Pictello, guides Williams by allowing her to click on a picture for a voice response that explains what to do next.

Before long, she is sorting and hanging clothes with little assistance.

Those clothes will in turn be given to students in need.

Williams is one of more than a dozen special-education students from Morro Bay High School learning job skills in a specialty shop, named the Pirate Plaza, which provides clothing for middle and high school students in need.

The shop stocks everything from gently worn clothing and shoes to personal care items such as shampoo, razors, deodorant and lotion. Cash donations are used to purchase new underwear and socks.

“We found that there are a lot of services for the little guys in elementary schools, but there is a real gap for older kids,” said Kathy Buehler, assistant principal at Morro Bay High School.

Yet, poverty rates continue to rise and more students are left in need.

Today, 44 percent of students at the high school are considered socio-economically challenged, up from just 20 percent six years ago, Buehler said.

The Pirate Plaza concept started when a counselor mentioned to Buehler that more and more students were coming in with clothing needs.

Buehler and a team of volunteers started collecting donations, and before long, the Pirate Plaza concept emerged.

The San Luis Coastal Unified School District donated a room at the former Sunnyside Elementary School in Los Osos to run the clothing shop.

Students can make appointments to go there and select the items they need. Eventually Buehler hopes to have the shop open during set hours.

Special-education teacher Daniel Juday seized the opportunity to have his students not only lend a hand but also learn critical job and social skills.

“Finding vocational opportunities for high school-age students is tough,” said Juday. “This is an excellent way to teach jobs skills and training.”

For Williams, who spent years recovering after being swept out to sea and nearly drowning eight years ago, it is another way to interact with her peers and learn the sequence of completing tasks.

An active member of the high school, she is also a part of the ASB class and was recently recognized by her peers by being named the homecoming queen at Morro Bay High School.

A grand opening of the Pirate Plaza, in Room 3 at 880 Manzanita Drive in Los Osos, will be celebrated Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. For more details or to make donations, call Buehler at 771-1845, ext. 2936.

Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Stay updated by following @a_cornejo on Twitter.

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