A quick-stop coffee shop opened inside Quaker Valley High School recently, featuring hazelnut lattes and blackberry iced teas served by students with intellectual or developmental disabilities looking to hone their skills in a real-life job setting.
The Daily Grind, which offers a variety of coffee and breakfast choices — all meeting the school’s wellness requirements — opened to students last week.
Baristas and cashiers at the coffee shop are students in Quaker Valley’s life skills program, which offers support for those with developmental or intellectual disabilities and students with autism spectrum disorder.
“They are just so excited to do this,” said Jennifer Reiser, the district’s food services director, noting she’s watching the students gain confidence as they become comfortable mixing up drinks for their peers.
The idea for a coffee shop came as Quaker Valley was looking to expand its breakfast program, which has struggled with participation.
For the last year, the high school offered a grab-and-go breakfast that required students to pre-order their selection. Only one student participated during the 2016-17 school year, Reiser said.
“We understand the importance of breakfast for the kids,” she said. “But we also understand that they want to sleep in until the very last minute.”
That meant students weren’t getting up early to get breakfast at school or going through the process of pre-ordering. Under requirements from the National School Lunch Program, the district is required to offer breakfast for students.
That’s where the idea for the coffee shop arose. Students could stop and get their favorite beverage and breakfast on their way to class. Or, if they want, they can sit down and eat the food they purchase at the coffee shop.
Yet, the school doesn’t have cafeteria staff to come in for the coffee shop’s 7:30 a.m. opening each day, Reiser said. So, she sought out the help of students.
One focus for the 12 students in the life skills program is to teach them to handle real-life situations and for them to work toward being able to be competitively employed without the need for a job coach by their side, said life skills teacher Jason Brindza.
“We work on a lot of skills for vocation so that they can be a lot more independent,” he said. “If we can teach them these types of skills in the school setting, it makes it more likely they’ll be able to do them in real life.”
Student interns at the school also are helping to run the coffee shop.
Having a place for the students to learn to be cashiers, count inventory and serve as baristas in the school is a great confidence booster and learning experience for the students, Reiser said.
She watched as one student’s hands shook as he learned to prepare drinks for his classmates. By the end of the day, he was a pro. The nervousness was gone and he beaming as he made drinks for his friends.
“By the end of the day, he could have been a bartender,” Reiser said.
Brindza said he likes having the opportunity for the students to learn these skills inside the school so they don’t have to leave the building to get the experience.
Hands-on learning is vital for students and they’re working alongside their classmates, making drinks for their peers, which makes it extra special.
“They take pride in their work,” he said.
Getting a school coffee shop up and running took time and a lot of collaboration, from technology or maintenance. The classroom — once used as a school store — had running water and an ice machine already.
High school students taste tested the drinks during the last several weeks, and while all of the flavors and beverages meet those healthy standards, Reiser said the drinks “taste like something you might get at Starbucks.”
The shop also will serve cereal bars, whole grain Pop-Tarts, bagels, and whole grain mini-doughnuts.
Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.
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