Sequoyah High School was the first in the district to open a coffee café in 2006. The Café Chief A Latte coffee shop, located in the main hallway of the school, is operated by the school’s Special Education Department from 7:45 to 10 a.m. each school day.
All of the special education students can be seen each morning serving up coffee and tea and making deliveries to Sequoyah faculty and staff.
“Café Chief A Latte enables our Special Education students to obtain daily living skills, employability skills and social skills,” Principal Elliott Berman said. “It’s a wonderful program that benefits the entire Sequoyah High community through both this interaction and the popular products they serve.”
Hannah Guibault, a 14-year-old freshman, said she likes coming to the coffee shop in the mornings to support the program because her older sister, a graduate and former peer facilitator, told her about the importance of working with special education students.
“I think it helps the kids to interact with other people,” Hannah said.
Paraprofessional Kimberly Morgan, who leads the program, said it has allowed her 15- to 20-year-old students who were previously unable to interact with others the ability to work in a service role upon graduation, just like they do in the school’s coffee shop.
“Some of them now can do all of these things,” Morgan said. “Otherwise, they wouldn’t have been able to do something like this.”
Just over a month into the school year, Morgan said she can send a couple of her students on coffee deliveries in the mornings by themselves.
“We would go with them to begin with… but now, more than one of them can do it on their own. They go down to the classroom and they gather the supplies with the peer helper and bring them back, so it really is a good program,” Morgan said.
One of Morgan’s students, 18-year-old Melissa Reddick, said she has been able to make friends in many students and staff members in her deliveries, including a friend who is a peer facilitator named Jennifer.
Still, Reddick, daughter of Leif and Jennifer Reddick of Woodstock, said her favorite part is making the hot drinks and sampling some for herself.
“French vanilla!” Reddick said of her favorite coffee flavor with a big smile.
Pictures hanging in the coffee shop further promote the purpose of Café Chief A Latte, as they were painted by former special education student Kale Hicks in 2006, the year the coffee shop opened.
Morgan said she loves knowing that all other special education students in the district are able to participate in the program after the success seen at Sequoyah.
“This has been my baby since the beginning,” Morgan said.
Athletic Director Todd Miller said he and former administrator Tami Smith pushed for the program after seeing Kennesaw Mountain and Harrison in Cobb County had similar programs.
“We started talking to them about opening it up and how they incorporated it with their special ed kids,” Miller said. “I think it’s been great for our kids.”
Assistant Principal Diane Butterworth said it gives the students more of a purpose and something to get excited about each day.
“It gives them a connection to the other kids in the school,” Butterworth said. “In a lot of schools, you don’t really see the special ed kids but at Sequoyah, (general education students) high-five them, they’re excited to see them, so I think it’s really a positive effect.”
Butterworth said the program has also expanded the school’s peer facilitator program with about 50 students applying each year.
“They see the joy they get from working with the students,” Butterworth said.
Both Miller and Butterworth noted how surprised they initially were at the students’ capabilities.
“I think we’ve all been surprised at what the kids can do and how independent they can be,” Butterworth said. “We wouldn’t have really developed those skills as much if we didn’t have the coffee shop.”
Morgan said it’s even encouraged regular education students to dedicate their senior projects to a cause geared toward helping the special education students, including a Valentine’s Day dance and a talent show that have been held in the past.
“It evolves into way more than just the coffee shop,” Morgan said.
Morgan added that a lot of students in the peer facilitator program end up going on to be special education teachers or to help those special needs, including Taylor Romines, an 18-year-old senior and president of the school’s Friends Club, which is another group dedicated to working with the special education students.
Romines said over 30 students have signed up to be in Friends Club this year and she credited that to the success of the coffee shop.
“Everyone knows the kids from the coffee shop,” she said. “A lot of people want to be able to hang out outside of school with them.”
Cherokee High School was the second in the district to open a similar program, called the Warrior Grounds Coffee Shop in 2007.
“Warrior Grounds was opened to give our special education students real-life work experiences and opportunities to work and interact with the general education peers,” Principal Debra Murdock said. “Our special needs students gain invaluable work experience, interact with general education peers, practice skills, and raise funds for materials and opportunities they would not have otherwise. We love to be able to think outside the box in order to find real-world experiences for our students and to give them avenues to reach all of their goals!”
In February 2010, The Lazy Bear Café at Creekview High School opened and is a collaborative effort with regular education Peer Helpers.
“Although there are numerous benefits of having the coffee shop, the Lazy Bear Café was created primarily to offer realistic, hands-on job training skills for students with special needs,” Principal Dr. Adrian Thomason said. “With practical, repetitious, supervised training, such as that provided through our coffee shop program, our special needs students are much more likely to gain skills that will allow them to be competitively employed upon graduation.”
Thomason said other benefits of the shop include opportunities for healthy social exchanges between students, quality products for faculty and students and profits that directly support students.
“Our students with special needs get to interact more with regular education peers, which promotes a climate of acceptance and encourages friendships. Our regular education peer helpers have stated that our special needs students are an inspiration and make their day,” Thomason said.
Profits are used to order supplemental classroom materials, pay for field trips, provide scholarship assistance for students with special needs, etc. “We also provide free gift certificates for teachers to use as incentives for their students.”
The coffee shop at River Ridge High School also opened in 2010. Principal Darrell Herring said the Jester’s Java coffee shop teaches students employment skills, daily living skills and social skills that will assist them in being successful community participants after leaving high school.
“The daily interaction with peers teaches life lessons beyond any text book,” Herring said. “The life lessons are reciprocal — the regular education students benefit just as much. That bonding between the two groups is priceless.”
Etowah High School in September opened the district’s newest coffee shop, Bird’s Eye Brew, which is operated by its Special Education Department staff and students.
“Etowah was the last school in the county to have Coffee Shop, but ours is the best!” Principal Keith Ball said. “We have our Senior Lounge combined with our Coffee Shop. It is an awesome venue.”
Ball said the coffee shop provides additional on-site life and work skill opportunities for special education students and is a “great opportunity for our special education students and community as a whole.”
Additionally, Woodstock High School has its own coffee shop run by its Special Education Department, but Principal Bill Sebring could not be reached prior to press time.