Students learn skills via community coffee cart – School News Network

Lowell — Every other Wednesday, M-21 passers-by passing through the town of Lowell can buy their morning cup of coffee and support students in the High School Transition Skills Class.

Throughout the school year, students pick up a van from Lowell High School at Bernard’s Ace Hardware, 1601 W. Main St., with their morning refreshments and set up their remote coffee cart from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.

For now, the class has a table outside, but once the temperatures really drop, the coffee cart will be offered inside the store.

On a recent morning in November, sophomore Hayden Videan was grateful to be in charge of the coffee pump dispenser.

“(My favorite part is) pumping the coffee. I’m good at it,” he explained. “And when it’s cool in the morning, the coffee is nice and hot.”

Junior Molly Wade added, “You have to make sure you ask if they (the customer) want cream or sugar.”

In addition to coffee, Hayden, Molly and their classmates offer tea, hot chocolate and student-made power balls made from oatmeal and peanut butter. Customers can also sometimes have a cup of hot apple cider.

Lowell High School sophomore Hayden Videan opens a packet of hot chocolate with the help of special education teacher Olivia Johnson

Internal transition

The class had so far had no shortage of customers among parents, grandparents and even some adult children of school staff who stopped by to buy a hot drink.

“We just had so much support,” said special educator Olivia Johnson. “For us to be able to show what we do has been amazing.”

At first, the service was just at school, where students delivered drinks to teachers and staff via a cart. But the intention has always been to go out into the community and give students the opportunity to learn job skills.

Thanks to a grant from the Lake Michigan Credit Union and partnerships with Brody’s Be Cafe in Ada and Bernard’s Ace Hardware in Lowell, the public coffee cart became a reality this year.

“We wanted to do an internal (bridging) program at Lowell because there are some great ones offered by (Kent ISD), but they’re offered in first and second year,” Johnson explained. “We also wanted to serve our other students.

With the initial funding provided through the grant, the coffee cart is now mostly self-sustaining with all profits going directly to restocking the coffee cart supplies.

Lowell High School special education teacher Olivia Johnson helps junior Kelsey Staley follow orders at the classroom’s mobile coffee cart

Reinforcement of professional skills

The students who run the coffee cart learn and practice professional skills that they will continue to need throughout their lives.

Before the students start working at the cafe, Allison Butkus, who also tutors dementia students at Lowell, walks them through the transitional skills needed for the workforce, such as working with others, greeting customers, counting money and more.

These skills are applied through their work at the coffee cart with the hope that they will bring what they have learned to their future workplaces.

“We focus on a lot of soft skills,” Johnson said. “The coffee cart really helps students learn about counting money, serving customers, storing supplies and different things like that.”

“(I like) taking the money and giving people change,” added sophomore Zachary Vaughn.

Johnson said liability sometimes lies in determining which money goes into the till and which goes into the tip jar when a customer pays with a $5 bill for their $2 drink and tells them to keep the change. Students also practice skills at the high school Spirit Store, where they stock shelves, serve popcorn, and perform other concession stand duties.