Popcorn Program Benefits Student Lives


Zakyia Webb, Staff Reporter

A simple bag of popcorn. Special Needs students learn from this experience in real life situations bringing joy to staff around the school.

“We were very happy to oblige as it gave my students a chance to learn some work skills and provided some hands-on training to break up their academic day.” said retired Special Education teacher Pam Tajnai.

In 1992, Associate Principal Dale Brietlow bought a popcorn machine and popcorn.  He wanted a way to thank the staff for their hard work. Sadly Brietlow was killed in 1993. He had asked Special Education teacher Pam Tajnai if her students could distribute popcorn to teachers and staff, so the program expanded from there.

The results of the program, were very positive said Tajnai.

The staff loved it.  We would make it in the morning and staff would come down during their break to enjoy some warm popcorn and I’m pretty sure it was the only lunch some of them had.”

Special education teacher Ruth Gulotta has been running the program since Tajnai retired in 2016. Gulotta, a Special Education teacher at West, has students who continue with the tradition of making and delivering the popcorn to staff. The process of making and delivering the popcorn teaches students communication skills, employment skills and work skills. Skills that will benefit them for the real world.

”We’re interacting with them a lot on teaching skills and also on modeling the behaviors they should have,” Gulotta explained. “They develop soft skills such as learning to interact with peers and adults. These are important to future employers. We’ve been working with students to build independence so they can walk around the building themselves and follow a schedule.  It just depends upon where each student is at as to why we are doing the popcorn.”

Mrs. Gulotta further explained, ”Reading off the chart figuring of who gets popcorn, how many each day, and counting out how many bags to make each day. That’s one whole part of why we do popcorn to give them the skill set that they can take into the job… They learn to follow directions and practice their counting skills.  They get to greet the teacher and other kids get to interact with them”.

Several teachers who receive popcorn were interviewed and they had positive things to say about the program. Teachers see the students learning different skills.

“It helps students for preparation of skill development and routine.  Helps them after graduation,” said Ms. Timmler.

Another teacher who participates in the program, Mr. Mateske, said, “Developing skills by learning to schedule and to having conversations with adults to have better skills beyond Wauwatosa. I greet the students, ask what they are brining and get the students to interact more.”

Overall, the popcorn program helps the students with special needs who are interacting with their peers and teachers. They develop communication and social skills that can help them beyond West. It also helps students interact with special needs students and better understand how they communicate.