Every Friday morning you can see a group of special education students pushing coffee and pastry carts around La Mesa Junior High School.
Affectionately named the “Lobos Coffee House” for the school’s mascot, the weekly coffee house gives students the opportunity to utilize skills learned in the classroom and have practical experience counting money, using sign language, navigating, listening and socializing.
The coffee house was the brainchild of special education teachers Justine Agagon and Aubrie Fairbanks, and is the first of its kind in the William S. Hart Union School District.
The teachers decided to create the program at the start of the school year as an outlet for project-based learning. The two took it upon themselves to find companies to donate food and coffee to the program—and they succeeded with Starbucks and Panera Bread.
“I have never have seen a teacher go out and create a program where the teacher sought out big businesses and implemented a program like this,” said Andrea Feather, an aid in the Sulphur Springs School District whose son is a student in Agagon’s class. “From what I know, there is no other program like this.”
The program Agagon and Fairbanks created is entirely student-run. Teachers sign up for the coffee house during the week and then students travel to different classrooms and offices to take orders, receive orders, fill orders and give change.
“It takes about two hours to fulfill about 20 orders,” Fairbanks said. “But, there have been no behavioral issues.”
In the three weeks since its inception, the Lobos Coffee House has gained schoolwide popularity and become a success on campus.
“Every week we are selling out,” Fairbanks said. “We have reoccurring customers and teachers who really embraced this program.”
While students take and fulfill orders, Fairbanks and Agagon are always nearby to help, using sign language—a schoolwide communication initiative integrated this year—to communicate with their students.
“Our school is embracing sign language,” La Mesa Principal Michele Krantz said. “We needed an elective, but we chose sign language to create an inclusive community.”
The sign language implementation has allowed students with disabilities and students who are deaf to communicate with peers outside of their usual classroom setting.
The program has also created a shift in attitude and an excitement toward school for students involved in the weekly Lobos Coffee House.
“They’re very excited for this so you see a behavioral shift when they’re working toward a goal,” Agagon said.
Feather said she sees an enthusiasm in her son to go to school and credits the dedication and compassion of Agagon for his language improvement over the past year.
“Ms. Agagon is a phenomenal teacher,” she said. “The way she has reached out to parents shows she is really trying to make a difference with students and is doing the best job she can do.”
Krantz said the entire staff and student body are embracing the students to create a welcoming and diverse community that extends beyond ethnic and socioeconomic boundaries.
“We work really hard to be extremely inclusive at La Mesa,” Krantz said. “These students are just as much involved in the school as anyone else.”
The Lobos Coffee House charges $1 for coffee and 50 cents for pastries. Fairbanks said the average of $45 per week will hopefully be used to fund a trip to Disneyland for Agagon’s and Fairbanks’ classes at the end of the year.
On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_