Life Skills Cafe
Helping students gain real-life experience at BAHS
By EMMA GOSALVEZ
BELLEFONTE – Several students have been gaining valuable life skills within the walls of Bellefonte Area High School.
This has been made possible thanks to the Life Skills Cafe that takes place every other Friday from 7:45 to 9 a.m. in the classroom of special education teacher Rachael Davis. Currently, five students from Davis’ life skills class help out at the cafe.
Davis said it fits very well with the mission of the class.
“It has the academic component of the math and the reading when it comes to measurements and reading recipes, but then it has the functional component of actually learning a life skill,” she said. “It also gave me a segue into a vocational component where these kids could take these skills and take them out into the community and be employed.”
For the past two years, the cafe has been helping students gain the skills they need upon graduation. Davis said there were about nine students involved with the cafe last year.
It originally began as a restaurant, she said. Teachers were able to pre-order their lunches and students would work to prepare a meal that included a main course, side dish, beverage, and dessert.
On the morning of Friday, March 23, coffee and coffee cakes were popular items among customers at the cafe. Coffee cakes are the cafe’s number one seller, Davis said, with breakfast sandwiches being another big hit. Other menu items throughout the school year included miniature quiches and cheese danishes.
During the school year, students not only run the cafe but are involved in baking, cooking, taking inventory of cafe items, and creating surveys seeking feedback on new cafe items. Davis said they also strengthen their hygiene skills through washing their hands properly, washing aprons, and wearing hairnets and gloves while they are baking. Kitchen inspection is also conducted and Davis talks to students about contamination.
Students at the cafe take on a variety of roles, including greeter, cashier, barista, and server.
“It’s just based off of their growth; we’ll start at square one and we move our way up,” Davis said.
Junior Ashley Harter, who was the cafe’s barista last year, gets to now shine in the cafe with her strong money skills. Each time the cafe is open for business, she works as the cashier.
“She killed it with her money goals last year,” Davis said. “She’s so independent and she was great with cooking. She can read a recipe to a T and follow it; this is going to help her get a job.”
Harter agreed that the cafe is a good opportunity for her to use her money skills and that it is also fun. “It’s really good,” she said.
Serving as cafe barista is junior Adam Marchini, who was formerly the cafe greeter and now makes sure customers receive the cup size of their choosing before he fills it with coffee. “He does a really good job with that,” Davis said.
Marchini said he likes filling coffee at the cafe and agreed that he is learning a lot, too.
New to the cafe is senior Hunter Sell, who just finished his first week.
What is his favorite part of working at the cafe? “Handing out the coffee cake,” he said.
Two other cafe helpers are senior Miranda Fleck, who hands out utensils, and junior Micah Heckathorne, who greets customers at the door with the assistance of an augmentative device.
All of the students agreed that they like running a business out of the classroom.
“This really lets my students have a role in the school community,” Davis said.
She added that the cafe is a great opportunity for the students to take on roles that are tailored to their individual skill sets.
It is also a great social opportunity for the students.
“They never would have seen three-quarters of the teachers who came into the room today had this not happened, or even some of the students the teachers send down,” Davis said. “It’s nice because we see them in the hallway and they will say ‘Hi’ to the kids in the hallway then, so they’re kind of building a social network out of it as well.”
One of the personal care aides who assists the students in the cafe is Bethany Eicholtz, who previously worked at elementary school and is now Marchini’s personal care aide.
“It’s a component of the job that makes me love it even more,” she said about the cafe.
She said she loves the cafe and the opportunities it affords the students.
Money raised from the cafe goes toward field trips for the students and purchasing items for the cafe and the class. Davis said that her students get to go on field trips that range from practical to leisure-based. Some past trips have involved bowling, fishing, attending baseball games, and shopping at Goodwill for outfits to wear to the school’s Valentine’s Day dance. Davis has also taken the students to Wegmans and the local recycling center to look at the various job opportunities those places offer.
In the future, Davis said she would love offer more opportunities that allow her students to learn more job skills. She would also love to collaborate with Strawberry Fields, which will be opening a coffee shop in State College that will employ disabled individuals. “I would love to be able to say, ‘This is a transition program where these kids are going to learn this skill set and right here is a prime place of employment.'”