- Associated Press - Sunday, June 4, 2017

COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa (AP) - Students at Thomas Jefferson High School are gaining real-world experience this year by working at the school’s new in-house coffee shop.

Buzz’s Coffee Brew first opened in March after Stephanie Ryan, project director and special education department chair, submitted a classroom grant application to the Council Bluffs Community Education Foundation, The Daily Nonpareil (https://bit.ly/2qn1QBe ) reported.

Where most people might see caffeine in a steaming cup of joe, Ryan saw an opportunity. She envisioned a space where students with disabilities could work alongside general education students to learn entry level job skills.

“I wanted students to be able to work in a diverse learning environment while communicating with various students,” Ryan said.

After Ryan was awarded a $932 grant to open the coffee shop, she recruited TAG student Ruby Morales to help her plan a menu and order supplies. Today, shop visitors can order a number of different items from the menu, including basic black coffee, cappuccino, hot chocolate, hot tea, lattes and iced coffee.

“Now that we have everything up and running and have the recipes down, the students know how to make everything and they all know what to do,” Ryan said.

In the shop, Morales works as part of a team to learn valuable skills, including taking orders, setting goals, managing time and communicating effectively. Students work before school and during first hour Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 9:19 a.m. each day.

Morales is one of five students that work in the shop this trimester. Seniors McGwire Midkiff and Glenn Walker and juniors Abbi Woodward and Scott Foote also work in the shop.

“We have a variety of different needs and level of students that work in the shop and I did that on purpose,” Ryan said. “I hand-picked students for the coffee shop, and we’ve had a great experience with the students that are involved.”

Morales said she loves working in the coffee shop because it’s a lot of fun and she gets to talk to people she wouldn’t normally see during the school day.

“I loved the idea and everything about it,” Morales said. “I love to talk to the students and see them grow and learning skills they probably wouldn’t have gotten outside of this cafe.”

Midkiff is the shop’s student manager. Working in the shop has allowed him to develop management skills and has even led him to consider a career in education, he said.

“I’ve gotten to know the kids really well,” Midkiff said. “I’ve learned how to communicate and how to lead without coming off as rude, and learning from Ms. Ryan has been a major takeaway for me.”

Ryan said she plans to continue the project through next year, when a whole new cohort of students will get the opportunity to work in the shop.

“This has been my dream team,” Ryan said. “We have lot of fun.”

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Information from: The Daily Nonpareil, https://www.nonpareilonline.com

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