When students and staff at Indiana Area High School have a cup of coffee at the school’s Commons CafÃ©, they are served by students in the Life Skills program, which provides special education for students with disabilities. intellectual and developmental.
These students run the school’s popular coffee shop with the goal of applying the functional skills they learn in the classroom, said Lori Dadson, a high school life skills support teacher. Students go through a cycle of installation, service and cleaning twice a school day.
The cafe provides a unique opportunity for students with these disabilities to interact with their peers in a workplace, Dadson said.
âI have students who really need to work on their social skills, and being in the cafe has really opened them up,â she said. âIt really lets kids know they’re capable. They feel like they are part of the community because they often feel disconnected because of their disability. It’s a lot of work, but it’s so rewarding for them.
Since opening at the end of 2018, the Commons CafÃ© has served the basics: hot and cold coffee, hot chocolate and tea. But, says Dadson, customers often ask for more sophisticated drinks such as lattes, cappuccinos, macchiatos, and espressos.
Now, with the help of TJ Fairchild, owner of Commonplace Coffee, students have the opportunity to purchase a fully automated used commercial coffee machine capable of brewing all of these drinks and more. Dadson would also like to acquire a point of sale system to allow customers to use credit and debit cards – another functional skill his students could learn.
While the total prize is $ 16,000, the class is already well ahead of the fundraising effort: Andy and Laurie Kuzneski, owners of Kuzneski Insurance Group in Indiana, have pledged to match. all new money raised, up to $ 6,000. To date, Dadson said approximately $ 2,200 has been pledged.
For the Kuzneskis, it’s a win-win situation.
âIt ticks all the boxes for us,â said Laurie Kuzneski. âWe love our coffee, we love helping our community and we are committed to helping people grow in their careers. It’s part of our culture. So for me, it’s just a wonderful way to extend beyond our office all of these things that are important to us, and to give that opportunity to the children of the Commons CafÃ©.
Coincidentally, Andy and Laurie are big fans of Commonplace Coffee as well.
âWe have known TJ for a long time and we have always tried to support his efforts because I think, culturally, he is very similar to us. He wants to do good in the community, and he supports other businesses, and it’s kind of in our hearts too, so we have that in common. A lot of business people may not be as inclined to help someone who works in the same field, but they are.
In fact, Fairchild helped get the coffee bar off the ground by donating equipment and educating Dad on what supplies to buy and how to make various drinks. And, of course, it serves Commonplace Coffee exclusively.
âI’m delighted to support this,â said Fairchild, who visits the cafe often. âI have a heart for the community and the students. When I heard about it, that’s exactly what turned me on. Here is one way to add value to their instruction. This next project is a natural next step with where the students are.
Fairchild said the machine (a Franke A600) is similar to what many fast food chains use now, so a Life Skills student would already be familiar with the technology.
Commonplace Coffee opened in Indiana in 2003 and is now headquartered in Pittsburgh, with nine locations in western Pennsylvania.
Likewise, the high school coffee bar was also very successful, operating without any financial support from the school district, Dadson said. All proceeds are used to purchase supplies for the cafe or for the Life Skills class. The money also helps cover the cost of trips to the local community where students can learn to compare prices in grocery stores or interact with waiters in a restaurant.
âIn the classroom, the students learn functional skills, so I teach them personal hygiene, cooking, cleaning, basically all the skills they will need to live on their own. Independent life skills are an important part, âshe said. âWe also teach them what it’s like to go to work, how to interact with colleagues and staff, things like that. So we prepare them for work after graduation as well.
âStudents with disabilities were always kept together. But in the last 10 or 12 years in education, we’ve included them more. We are taking a step towards realizing that it is okay to be different. And I think it really opened the eyes of a lot of people. Not just the students, but the staff, with their abilities and beyond their disabilities, âDadson said.
âThe kids in our school community have always been great with the kids in my class. They have always been at the service of my students. And now my students are serving them, âshe said. âAnd they see Life Skills students as even more part of the school community. It’s a great experience for everyone.
If you would like to donate, you can use PayPal or send a check to the IASD, with “Commons CafÃ©” in the memo line, 450 N. Fifth St., Indiana, PA 15701.