Checking it twice

Sibley-Ocheyedan High School special education teacher Tara Bouwman goes through a check list kept on the Special Brew delivery cart. Bouwman runs the program to provide real-world experiences to her students. 

SIBLEY—Sibley-Ocheyedan High School special education students are expressing learned business skills with coffee beans.

Instructor Tara Bouwman calls the project Special Brew as the special education student make the coffee special for each person.

The program began at the beginning of the year after Bouwman identified a need to work on employability skills. She was aware of other schools using a coffee shop-type model.

“I contacted those schools to see where they were happy or struggling, so I could use those experiences and make our coffee shop effective,” Bouwman said. “We are taking it semester by semester with a new group each time.”

Special Brew provides Sibley-Ocheyedan staff members with an opportunity to order coffee and baked goods. Bouwman said drinks that can be ordered include caffeinated coffee, decaf coffee and cocoa. Sometimes, special drinks are available, such as when a Keurig coffee maker was donated. Drinks cost $1 each.

“Also on the menu is a weekly treat,” she said. “I started with easier treats, like Rice Krispies, so we could work first on teamwork, basic recipe skills and generally get our feet under us. Then, I graduate to harder recipes — we tried fudge — or possibly double recipes.”

Treats range in price from 50 cents to $1.

Every Monday, Bouwman creates a document with the week’s treat and coffee options, which are chosen the week before. She sends the document to all of the teachers and compiles orders onto a spreadsheet that is printed out and used for delivery. Orders are due Tuesday and the class goes grocery shopping for necessary ingredients. Wednesdays are used if the treats take longer than one day to make. If not, an extra lesson, such as microwave safety and co-worker conflict management, is presented.

“Thursday we finish up baking so the orders are as fresh as possible and Friday is delivery day,” Bouwman said. “Students bring the drinks and treats directly to the teachers. We work on customer service and making change at that point.”

The students start the program by going through a hiring process. A full interview is conducted and the students learn about applications, resumes and cover letters. Through the practice, Bouwman said they also learn other skills that are important, such as answering interview questions, how to tie a tie, dress for an interview and present a proper handshake.

Four of Bouwman’s students are able to participate in Special Brew and then weeks of cooking begin. Bouwman said she tests everyone to determine who works best where and to give them a chance to try everything — cooking, serving as barista, cleaning up and delivery. Afterward, she places them in permanent posts. Manager training is held around 14th week.

“They learn about asking for a raise or promotion, and a student is chosen to lead the group, I fade into the background as support,” Bouwman said.

Special Brew is giving the students plenty of learning experiences. Bouwman said not only are the students making treats and delivering coffee to the teachers, but they also take notes and listen to lectures.

“My hope is that they not only gain experience in working, lessons in the kitchen and valuable employability skills, but they also get to practice skills like conflict management, problem solving and ask questions in a controlled, safe environment,” she said. “I hope we continue with the coffee shop. I believe the students are learning some incredible skills and gaining some awesome experience for their future workplaces, whatever they may be.”