Special Education students run a coffee shop for teachers

A new transition program for special education brings new life to old student store


Kenny Kim

Posing for a photo, Java Jags workers kick off their soft opening.

Kylie Orthman and JinJu Nam

Once a dusty and abandoned storefront, wood tiles and red curtains replace the stained vanilla panels. The aroma of coffee and creamer fills the air as fairy lights and decorations adorn the window. Mrs. Peak and her special education kids admire their new shop as they chalk on its name: Java Jags.

Mrs. Peak and the special education teachers always wanted a transition program for older senior students. The purpose would be to ensure they were ready for the workplace. When giving suggestions to Mr. Ross (a coffee junkie), Java Jags, a cafe for teachers, was born.

“If there are proceeds, they would go to the Special Olympics or to continue the program. The idea is not necessarily to make money but to provide a transition program and job skills,” Peak said.

Bringing the idea to reality, the students earned their food-handler licenses last year and started training before their soft opening. The program teaches them basic job skills such as clocking in, working a cash register, cleaning and opening/ closing a shop. They even have lockers.

Senior Drew Verdicchio works on the first order of the day. (Kenny Kim)

“I like to work, get the job done, and learn how to use the cash register. I also like delivering coffee to teachers and being a leader. Mrs. Peak teaches me by showing me how to make coffee, by helping me focus and cleaning up at the end of the day,” worker and senior Drew Verdicchio said.

The cafe’s soft opening was on the week of January 19 when teachers were served from every department. The student employees made freshly-brewed regular coffee, lattes, espressos and hot chocolate. Either through their walk-up service or pick-up after ordering via email, the Jaguar staff enjoyed the many drinks Java Jags offered.

Excited for the coffee, Spanish teacher Chandler Dawson ordered a hazelnut latte.

“I am super excited because I love coffee. I normally would get coffee in the morning before school, but thanks to Java Jags, I can get coffee during any time of the day without having to leave,” Dawson said.

Only serving teachers now, they hope to soon share their tasty beverages with students.