Coffee cart provides a jolt for Trailside students
Manning the operation has helped them hone their communication skills
March 14, 2017
Once a week at Trailside Elementary School, the Stir Crazy Coffee Cart is open for business.
Armed with a cartful of coffee and donuts, students receiving special education services walk the halls of the school, peddling their goods to teachers and staff members in exchange for donations to the Park City School District's Latinos in Action programs.
To the uninitiated, it may seem like a simple activity. But teachers in the Trailside special education program say it's much more than that. Over the last two months, they've seen the students flourish, transforming from uncertain children too shy to maintain eye contact with teachers into confident baristas and servers who are eager to make their weekly rounds.
Vanessa Jobe, the teacher who came up with the idea of bringing the coffee cart program to Trailside after being inspired by similar efforts in San Francisco and Salt Lake City, said the growth in the students has been phenomenal.
That development is vital, she said, because students receiving academic support must be able to advocate for themselves when they move on to Ecker Hill Middle School. The coffee cart program has helped them harness those skills in a natural and fun way.
"That was kind of our driving (force), allowing students the opportunity to have those conversations with teachers and feel comfortable and confident in their abilities," she said. "Because all of these kids have all those skills.
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Cortney Martinez, a speech therapist involved in the program, said the coffee cart is so valuable because it takes the students out of the classroom and forces them to interact in unscripted situations. They don't know in advance which teachers will want change or ask what kind of donuts they're selling. It requires the students to adapt on the go — and they have.
"Now you see them so comfortable," she said. "It's really neat to watch the difference and see their confidence. And they take pride in it. They're very prideful of their jobs."
Martinez added that one of the biggest changes is in the way the students present their offerings. In the beginning, they'd offer one-word, timid descriptions of what they were selling. Now, that shyness is gone. On a recent school day, the students presented the coffee and donuts to teachers with enthusiasm, using their arms to showcase the goods like a model on "The Price is Right" might while unveiling a new car.
"It went from, 'We have some donuts,' to now, 'We have a caramel-topped and cream-filled donut,'" she said. "That's functional communication. Now, we don't have to give them the descriptions because they are thinking about it and coming up with it on their own. It's fun to watch."
Participation from Trailside's staff has been vital. They have embraced the program in a way that has impressed, if not surprised, Jobe and Martinez, who said getting the students out of the classroom is an important element of the program but one that wouldn't be possible without the faculty's support.
"There's a lot of misconceptions about what goes on in our rooms," Martinez said. "It's really fun to help bridge that gap with the staff. I think it's affected our staff at a really great level, because they're excited to participate. I can't believe how successful it's been with the staff. They love seeing those kids."
Jobe and Martinez are hopeful the success of the coffee cart — which is funded by the Park City Education Foundation and the Trailside parent-teacher organization — means it will continue in future school years. One idea is to team up with students in the Ecker Hill special needs program, who could pick up the goods from Park City Coffee Roaster and Naughty Donuts and deliver them to Trailside.
The program could also expand into a community outreach effort in which the Trailside students could visit the roaster and donut shop and see the types of interactions real-life employees have with customers.
"Eventually, we can take our students that participate in Coffee Cart to Park City Coffee Roaster on local transportation and be like, 'This is what the job looks like outside of the cart,'" Jobe said. "That would just help broaden the horizon of it so it's not just like, 'This is a fun activity.' It's like, 'This is a life skill, being good with people.'"