RUSSIAVILLE — Students manning the Panther Powerstart Café at Western High School jumped into action Tuesday when staff members arrived seeking a morning cup of coffee.
One student greeted the customers and passed along their orders to his peers, who knew to grab a cup, fill it to the line near the top and place a lid on it. The person working the cash register took money, made change and wished each customer a good day.
The simple transactions provide important lessons for special education students in the pre-vocational education-west and life skills classes. Dawn Lytle, transitions specialist for the Kokomo Area Special Education Cooperative, launched coffee shops at Eastern High School and Taylor High School in the fall, with the Western shop holding its grand opening Tuesday.
“It’s really for the experience so we can improve our soft skills — money handling, greeting and communication,” Lytle said. “There’s a lot of employability skills they can learn like the cashiering, taking orders … and customer service.”
With coffee, tea, hot chocolate, water, pop and pastries on sale, the goal is for the café to make enough money to keep operating. Panther Powerstart is open to staff for 90 minutes every Tuesday. Students help set up and pack away the coffee shop supplies, keep track of inventory and orders, count money and prepare bank deposits.
Lytle and other staff trained them on portion sizes and how to handle hot drinks and maintain sanitation standards while serving food. Students also take orders over the phone or via email, which helps them learn professional communication skills.
Freshman Hayley Parrish said the hardest part has been learning to run the cash register, though she enjoys seeing people come in to buy beverages.
“If we do the cash register, we learn more about money, and when you go out in the real world, you know what to do,” she said.