Pleasant Hills Middle School Principal Dan Como took a moment’s break from his morning tasks, as a seventh-grader walked into his office with a steaming hot cup of coffee.
“Is that my delivery? Hot and fresh. Did you make it yourself?” Como asked, with a smile widening across his face.
The two engaged in a quick conversation, before the 12-year-old went off to fill the next coffee order down the hall, and Como’s day was left a little brighter.
“That little interaction can change your entire day,” he said. “They’re the sweetest kids around.”
Students in Pleasant Hills Middle School’s new Life Skills program start each morning preparing coffee and hot tea and pushing the Jaguar Den coffee cart around the school, filling orders for teachers who need their caffeine fix.
The West Jefferson Hills School District in 2018-19 launched its own Life Skills program for students with a variety of disabilitiesto provide them with real world learning opportunities.
The coffee cart is just one way for students to apply the reading and math skills they learn in the classroom, said Life Skills teacher Ashley Paradise.
Students start off their day putting creamers into brown baggies, based on what each teacher has ordered. They brew coffee in a Keurig and make hot tea. They add pumps of vanilla or raspberry syrup — whatever the teacher wants.
The process is about a lot more than learning to make coffee, said Megan Morgan, speech-language pathologist.
“There’s a lot of steps to making one cup of coffee,” she said.
The students learn to follow directions and, that if they mess up, it’s OK to start over.
It’s also great practice for possible future jobs. Coffee, hot tea and juice costs $1, and bottled water is 50 cents. Teachers can purchase punch cards to pay for the purchases, or they can use cash.
How they pay can require some on-the-spot thinking and quick math skills for the students, as they make change and ensure they collect the right amount of money.
Missy Gambino, sixth grade science teacher, ordered two cups of coffee and two bottles of water on a recent day. She paid with a gift card and a mix of change.
The students stood at her desk and counted out the money and figured out exactly what she owed them.
They maneuvered their way through the hallways with the coffee cart and were able to figure out which classrooms were closest to one another, so they weren’t running all throughout the school for their deliveries.
Bob Kerr, seventh grade social studies teacher, greeted the students at the door to his room.
“It’s the best part of my day,” he said.
And the coffee?
“It’s really good,” Kerr added. “It’s much needed.”
Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.