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Serving coffee and inclusion

Emily Lytle * Delaware
elytle@doverpost.com
Dover Post

These baristas may just be the coolest students in school.

Each morning, a few apron-donning students take orders from teachers and staff and deliver coffee, hot chocolate and tea. The morning of Jan. 22, Associate Principal Ron Berry couldn’t wait for a delivery and danced right into their classroom to buy a $2 cup.

“Outstanding, efficient, above and beyond,” Berry said of the students. “If they’re not here, we’re in panic mode. We’ve become adapted to seeing these students every day.”

They are part of a new unified class that runs a coffee shop called SIPS, or Students Increasing their Potential for Success. The shop, which opened for business in mid-October, has helped them develop job-ready skills, teacher Gavin Schukoske said.

“I’m extremely proud of all the things they’ve been able to accomplish in such a short time,” Schukoske said.

Many in the class are juniors in the STAR program, which stands for Students Transitioning into Adult Readiness. It focuses on vocational and independent-living skills for students pursuing a diploma of alternate achievement instead of a high school diploma. They help in the coffee shop twice a week and go to community internships the other days.

Others in the class are general education 11th and 12th graders, like Quinncey Gibson, who said he wanted to improve his communication, teamwork and customer-service skills.

Gibson’s face lit up when asked why he wanted to join the SIPS coffee team. “I like helping people out, and it brings me so much joy,” he said. “The students are amazing. They’re really funny and they’re hard workers. They’re fun to be around.”

Each morning, the students use a timecard to clock in and out, and then they fill out a log summarizing their hours and goals for the day. They clean up their work area, tie on their Dover High aprons and are assigned to either make coffee, take orders or help deliver.

Student Leroy Wright was the head barista Jan. 22, and he helped his peers with their tasks as he made coffee. He has taken on an unofficial manager role, Schukoske said.

Through working at the coffee shop, Wright said he can envision himself working after high school. “I could start working at Dairy Queen or Wawa because they make coffee, too,” he said.

He agreed with classmate Rosemary Singletary. She said she enjoys seeing the smiles on teachers’ faces after she delivers their coffee.

“I feel happy because I made their day,” she said.

One 9th grade teacher said she “couldn’t be happier” to see the SIPS students at her door after accidentally leaving her coffee behind that morning.

“The kids are amazing. They’re friendly, they’re very personable, and they come exactly when you need them to be here,” Laura Hudson said. “It makes us kind of feel special to have someone come around to do this for teachers.”

Those relationships with teachers and students are part of what makes the coffee shop special, Schukoske said.

“It’s really bridging the gap and creating relationships that in the past haven’t typically been there,” he said.

SIPS is part of a greater trend of creating more inclusive classrooms throughout Delaware, Schukoske said.

Brewed at CR

Caesar Rodney High School Principal Sherry Kijowski agreed. A little over three years ago, Caesar Rodney High started the Brew and Gold Cafe as a way to use their indoor concession stand more.

“I think there’s this universal truth that teenagers want to belong, and they want to feel connected to their school,” she said. “We took this underutilized space in Caesar Rodney High School and created an opportunity for inclusion.”

Students from John S. Charlton, a county program for students with special needs, join culinary students in serving coffee and seasonal treats every day from 7 to 8 a.m.

The culinary students prepare the food and earn class credit, while all students gain early career experience, Kijowski said.

As a result of these programs, Schukoske said, “If you own a business and are looking to hire, these students are much more capable than you would expect. They work hard, they listen and they want to learn,” he said. “I think that makes the difference in why we’re so successful. They come in everyday prepared to learn, wanting to learn and actively trying to get better at what they do.”