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Business grows from student’s talent

Eighth grader Samuel Felton points to his favorite piece of artwork in the classroom at Superior Middle School Wednesday. Greeting cards featuring his art are sold at the school with proceeds earmarked for the autism spectrum disorders program. (Maria Lockwood)

In the midst of World Book Night activities at Superior Middle School, a business was born. The Felton Collection features greeting cards with artwork by eighth-grader Samuel Felton. Since the unveiling April 23, the school office has sold about 75 of the cards.

“It’s been fabulous,” said school receptionist Teri Polkoski. “I myself have bought at least four.” There are cards for graduates, expectant parents, birthdays and every day. A whimsical mouse stands under the words “Thank you, from the bottom of my heart;” a card featuring a contemplative cow states “I’m thinking of you because I udderly adore you.”

“He’s got a cute style,” said Patty Dodge, who teaches students with autism spectrum disorders at Superior Middle School.

The collection is a fundraiser for the school’s autism program and a glimpse of a future career possibility for the young artist, who has autism. Each illustration Samuel brings to life with watercolor pencils and permanent marker is also a lesson in emotion.

“You give him the feeling, he comes up with the picture,” said Sandy Fulda, special education assistant.

It’s an innovative, outside-the-box way to teach kids about emotions, Dodge said, both the emotions of others and how to express their own.

“For kids with autism, that emotional part is very difficult,” she said. “There’s a card for every emotion in the world.”

It’s also a chance to engage social thinking.

“When you’re sending a card you’re thinking about how someone feels,” Dodge said. “You’re responding to their emotion and so I think this is going to be something that’s going to really, really work well for a lot of kids on the spectrum.”

And it was a perfect fit for Samuel.

“He’s always loved drawing and animals,” said his mother, Vickie Felton. Sharing his art has brought a host of benefits.

“Now he walks down the halls and people are talking to him about the cards,” Felton said. It’s a new level of interaction as fellow students walk up to tell him his cards are cool or that they just bought one.

“That has been huge,” Dodge said. “Having people he doesn’t even know come up and shake his hand. It’s been wonderful.”

“It’s just nice to see him get something that’s his,” Felton said. “I’m so proud of him.”

Dodge said she often asks Samuel to draw a picture to gauge his understanding of written material.

“Some people believe that kids with autism don’t have emotions,” Dodge said. “And Sam would be a hard one to tell but obviously he does. The bird picture shows that.”

She recalled reading a story about sparrows to Samuel around Valentine’s Day. She asked him if he could draw two sparrows in love. The resulting picture was two birds with their beaks together, heads touching.

“It showed me he understands what love is for an animal,” Dodge said.

The launch of the Felton Collection is just the beginning. Dodge hopes to introduce other collections from students with autism, from elementary to high school, with all proceeds going to the district’s autism programs.

“We just ordered 500 new cards to start printing,” Dodge said. “I see this being a huge part of the program.”

The plan is to have the students themselves do all aspects of creating — some illustrating, some writing phrases, others printing out cards.

“There are lots of kids on the (autism) spectrum who have a talent,” Dodge said. This is a chance to showcase their unique perspective.

The cards are available for $2 each at the middle school. Custom orders are always welcome. Dodge is looking for additional sites to sell the cards. If any local business would be interested in carrying the Felton Collection, they can contact Dodge at the school, 715-394-8740, ext. 147 or 218-727-2856.