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Student Coffeemakers Brew Future Job Skills

Friday, May 30, 2008 at 5:15 AM

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A special education class at Akron's Garfield High school begins each morning with steaming cups of latte, hot chocolate and cappuccino. Students working at Garbucks -- not to be confused with the famous Seattle coffeemaker -- serve only a clientele of teachers and administrators. ideastream's Kymberli Hagelberg stopped by recently to watch the baristas in action.

James Tompkins, 16, rings up a morning sale. In the background, classmates prepare coffee.

Anthony Ellis, 18, steams milk for a Jingle Bell Latte.

Every drink has its own step-by-step directions in the Garbucks photo recipe book.

Most students at Garfield High start their day catching up with friends over breakfast in the bustling school cafeteria, but for one small group, the hustle starts early.

Nancy Laria: Come on Kristen hurry up, lets go…

Teacher’s aide Nancy Laria gets in by 7:30 every morning, and leads students from this multiple disability class up a short flight of back stairs to the elevator.  As the teenagers follow along, Laria slows to reign in a straggler here and there.

In room 109, the students shuck their jackets and head to a big sink where they wash up for the morning rush and check out the duty board. By each student’s name are photos of their jobs for the week.

James Tompkins: “Cashier, pump coffee, toppings..”

Sixteen-year old James Tompkins checks out his tasks.

James Tompkins:  “I have to sign cards and do the grocery list.”

Nancy Laria “If I say, did Miss Howard get her coffee, they know automatically if she gets sugar or she gets cream. They all know what they have to do.”

Gar-bucks began about three years ago.  The idea came from Laria’s boss—a longtime special ed teacher who always creative ways to tie education to her students’ futures.  Given her name, this one was a natural. 

Leslie Coffey: “I’m Mrs. Coffey”

That’s Leslie Coffey, to her teaching colleagues…

The students polish basic math skills by ringing up sales and measuring drink ingredients. They practice concentration preparing recipes, and social skills through working together and delivering to customers throughout the school. Coffee pays students to complete jobs without help—and she takes money back when they need prompting from the staff.

Leslie Coffey: “We want them to be able to get out into the community and have a job. It’s ok when you’re learning a job for us to tell you what to do and help you out. But it’s really important that they learn those tasks and become independent.”

Senior Anthony Ellis is getting used to showing outsiders how he does his job. He’s treating me to his favorite, a frothy chocolate mint concoction …

Kymberli Hagelberg: “What do we have to do to make a jingle bell latte? “

Anthony Ellis: “We get the milk out. You gotta measure it --WHOA - not like that.

Kymberli Hagelberg: “That’s a little over?”

Anthony Ellis “Yeah, once you know it’s a little over, you got to pour some of it back in.”

Next comes the best part, Ellis deliberately swirls a generous portion of chocolate into the mug,

Then he hits the steamer, pours the foamy liquid, and tops the whole thing off with whip cream.

Garfiild High’s Gar-bucks program has drawn interest from special education teachers outside Akron, who come looking for tips on setting up their own program.  Six of Gar-bucks’ eight baristas will graduate this year. Next fall, Leslie Coffey and her remaining students will train a whole new group. 

Kymberli Hagelberg, 90.3

Tags

Education, Mental Health, Miscellaneous, Regional Economy/Business - News

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