For many people, nothing hits the spot in the morning quite like a nice, hot cup of coffee. Thanks to the students in the autistic support and life skills classes, teachers in the North Pocono High School now have a way get freshly made coffee delivered right to their classroom doors.
Students in Corey Gilroy’s life skills class and Matthew Seitzinger’s autistic support class have undertaken the job of selling coffee, tea, and hot chocolate to teachers twice each week.
The students take advance orders, prepare the cart which holds the beverages, get the coffee ready, deliver it to the teachers, and handle payments and change.
All of these tasks are designed to address the students’ need to gain practical skills, to help them build a resume of job related experiences, and to increase the interaction between the autistic support and life skills students and the rest of the school population.
Mr. Gilroy and Mr. Seitzinger credit the district’s director of pupil services, Dr. Donna Carey, with implementing new ideas that have changed the way the students in their classes spend their days in school.
Mr. Gilroy’s autistic support classroom has been outfitted like an apartment, with a kitchen area, living room furniture, a washer and dryer, and a bedroom area. This allows the teachers and staff to provide authentic and practical experiences for the students.
“The students gain independence, living skills, and skills to help them transition from high school to work,” explained Teri Mokay, the school’s transition teacher. The goal, she said, is for the students to be able to live as independently as possible upon leaving high school.
To help meet that goal, Mr. Seitzinger’s life skills classroom is geared towards teaching job readiness skills such as packaging items for the coffee cart, making change, data entry, making photocopies, and skills the students can use to run the updated school store.
“We blended the two programs, autistic support and life skills, to meet the needs of all the students. The ultimate goal is to meet their needs through job readiness and independent living skills. We want them to become as independent as they can become to help them for the future,” said Mr. Seitzinger.
The coffee cart, which will soon be offering student-made muffins as well, is an innovative way to teach useful work related skills as well as to boost the participating students’ interpersonal skills.
“I think it works on the kids’ social skills and communication skills. They’re out in the hallway with their peers, they interact with teachers they don’t normally see, and it gets them out of their comfort zone because this is their job, so they want to do it. Plus, it makes them visible to the rest of the school,” offered Mr. Gilroy. He added that the faculty, staff, and administration have been “extremely supportive and are willing to actively participate in what we do.”
The skills used to run the coffee cart business are the same skills that many of the students may need when they enter the workforce. “A key part of what we’re doing is, as the kids get older and transition out to a work environment or their own living environment, we’re building a resume for them so they have a skill set they can take to a future employer,” said Mr. Seitzinger.
The students are indeed learning, but to them, the coffee cart business is also something enjoyable and fun. Student Kevin Richards remarked, “We have different types of coffee, tea, hot chocolate, sugar, and cream. Sometimes I’m driving the cart and sometimes I get the money. It’s fun!”
Student Ethan Barnes agreed. “It’s pretty cool to go around and give everybody coffee. They’re all happy and stuff because they’re happy to get their coffee. I always do the money and if they buy a special mug, they get free coffee,” he said, referring to ceramic logo mugs available for purchase from the coffee cart.
The money earned as a result of the coffee sales will be put towards a year end pizza party or class trip, but the actual rewards of the endeavor—doing a real job and learning bona fide skills—will last long after the pizzas are eaten and beyond the time when class trips have faded into memories. What a great way to seamlessly integrate valuable job related skills, social and communication skills, and fun, while also providing a welcome service to the school community.