By Jim Sullivan
---- — BYFIELD — She may not be able to communicate in a traditional way, but Triton special education student Lexi McCarthy can bring a product to the market and make it work.
A nonverbal student in the Triton Adaptive Learning Center that caters to students with multiple, severe disabilities and complex medical needs, McCarthy, 19, competed in the Distributive Educational Clubs of America (DECA) District Regional Competition at Danvers’ Doubletree Hilton Hotel earlier this month — the first student in her category to do so in her district’s history.
“Lexi is a very talented girl,” said special education teacher Kevin Crowley. “She had complete ownership of the project and while we certainly guided her along the way, everything that is on that shirt is her choice.”
“It’s pushing the envelope,” said Triton business teacher and DECA adviser Frank D’Aloisio. “It was a first for our district (which includes North Andover, Beverly, Danvers, Peabody, Georgetown, Gloucester and Rockport) utilizing Lexi and the DECA concept. Hopefully, our district will start to encompass that idea and make that competition available all the way through. Maybe this will lead to something where Lexi will compete with somebody in her particular category.”
McCarthy communicates through the use of a 30-page, laminated communication book organized by topic including emotions, thoughts, needs, people, places or whatever else she may need to speak.
“Danvers was the victory,” Crowley said. “It was an opportunity that she took advantage of. It was a chance to showcase her abilities and skills.”
An international program, DECA is designed to prepare emerging entrepreneurs in marketing, finance, hospitality and management that Crowley and McCarthy came to almost by accident. Visiting the high school’s Viking Corner Store one day, Crowley and McCarthy met D’Aloisio and got talking. What if McCarthy could design a product to compete in the DECA Regional that could also move off the shelves at the Corner Store?
The idea appealed to McCarthy and she decided to design a T-shirt that made use of the traditional Triton colors, grey, blue and white. McCarthy also chose the target audience of teens and adults as well as the price of $15. Then she had to sell her product to a panel of judges in Danvers using only five words in her communication book. She chose “fun, cool, happy, new and bargain.”
“She basically had to sell her project idea to the judges,” Crowley said. “And it went great. It was outstanding. Lexi did a great job communicating clearly and effectively.”
“It felt fun, and it felt cool to go to the event,” McCarthy said through her communications book. “It’s a new shirt. It’s a bargain. I feel excited about the shirt.”
Crowley said that he and Kim Huertas, McCarthy’s one-to-one nurse, seemed much more nervous about the presentation than she was.
“She is so smart, she is so bright and just to see her compete like that is awesome,” Huertas said. “I’ve been a nurse for over 20 years and I just got teary-eyed because she is so great. To show people what she can do, even though she may not look like other kids or anything, she is just as bright and just as sharp. Maybe even sharper than a lot of other kids and she held her own. She rocked it.”
An out-of-district placement student, McCarthy came to the Triton system during the 2012-13 school year and began making an impression right away.
“She’s funny,” Huertas said. “She loves to play jokes, she will haze you sometimes if she thinks she can get away with it. She’s bright, she’s beautiful. She’s all around just a fantastic person.”
While it can be difficult for anyone to get up in front of strangers and make a presentation, with the success she had in Danvers, Crowley said he can see McCarthy doing more in the future.
“Those are her abilities and she can do it very well,” Crowley said. “I wouldn’t say I’m surprised by it. She nailed it. I was so proud of her.”