Coffee cart sales teach valuable skills to special education students

Special Education students at Lake Elmo Elementary in grades three through five run the coffee cart. Each Friday, they deliver coffee and hot chocolate to the staff members who have ordered some.

Photo by Mary Vertin

Special Education students at Lake Elmo Elementary in grades three through five run the coffee cart. Each Friday, they deliver coffee and hot chocolate to the staff members who have ordered some.

Ben Jacobs, Podcast Reporter

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Though Fridays often signal the end of the week, sometimes teachers need a little boost to finish off the week. At Lake Elmo Elementary, the staff is getting an extra kick through the coffee cart, which delivers orders every Friday.

Run through the special education department and funded by a grant from the Partnership Plan, the third through fifth-grade students take orders earlier in the week and deliver hot beverages on Friday. The program was an idea passed around through groups of special education teachers across the country and has now come through Stillwater. The goal of the coffee cart program is to teach valuable skills such as patience, communication and math skills to special education students.

Students can develop their skills in various ways using the coffee cart. From the production of the beverages to the delivery, there is something to be learned at every step of the process. The staff has seen one of the biggest skills growing in the students is their confidence.

“A lot of the kids are kind of shy, but now they can say, ‘coffee delivery, thank you for your money,'” Mary Vertin, Lake Elmo Elementary special education teacher, said.

Not only is it an opportunity for developing skills, but it is also an enjoyable time for students. Every Friday, they get to do something unique and this resonates with more people than just the students.

Mikki Martin, Lake Elmo Elementary special education teacher said, “the students are really excited. The parents are really excited. The students come in from the bus and right away, ‘it’s coffee cart day!'”

Another reason the coffee cart is important to the students is that it is something for not only the staff, but for them as well. It is something they run with supervisors ensuring they are safe; they are not necessarily there to run the coffee cart.

The students are really excited. The parents are really excited. The students come in from the bus and right away, ‘it’s coffee cart day!’”

— Mikki Martin

Diana Ahrens-Franklin, Lake Elmo Elementary paraprofessional, wrote their skills grow in many ways. One of the biggest ways they flourish is because it is something they can take ownership of. The students enjoy it so much, one said he wants to manage his own coffee shop when he grows up.

The coffee cart does an excellent job displaying the skills special education students have learned to all of the staff. The bond between student and staff member continues to grow as more interactions occur.

Vertin explained that the teachers are beginning to see the students in a different light. They can now see them, “differently than just a special ed student.”

This helps create a close-knit community within the school by connecting the students and staff on a personal level which is something special for the school.

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