Wa-Hi class offers practical skills for life

The class prepares students with disabilities independent living and working skills.

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Walla Walla High School Life Skill's Student Bob Richardson counts money from their cafe which they run as part of their class. 3/6/11

WALLA WALLA -- A morning bell rings at Walla Walla High School announcing the end of class. Jenni Reardon and Tiffany Steen head to the window of their classroom, where together with their classmates they have been running the Blue Devil Cafe since the start of the school year.

Without any walk-up orders from students during the brief interlude between classes, Reardon checks for order slips collected from classrooms. Then Steen, as barista, brews a cup of coffee on the class's Keurig machine.

Reardon, 19, and Steen, 20, are in the adaptive homemaking class at Wa-Hi. Geared for students with moderate to severe disabilities, the class focuses on life skills -- independent living and employment training. Seven students ranging in ages from 18 to 21 are in the class and each has a job as part of the Blue Devil Cafe.

Teacher Chris Blackman said she and the students thought up the cafe as a way to cover those basic skills, while working on something collaboratively.

"We needed a common framework in which to build upon," Blackman said.

The cafe is also helping raise funds for an end-of-year trip to Triple Play Family Fun Park in Coeur d'Alene.

The students are in the class each day from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., which is when the cafe is open. Most head to volunteer jobs during the day, where they gain additional skills.

Before launching the cafe, the class surveyed teachers and learned there was interest to get a coffee service going. The class bought its coffee machine, which brews individual cups of regular or flavored coffee, with some money from last year. They drew up slips for drinks and baked goods. The students also opened a walk-up window to take orders from students before they start school and between classes.

"None of us had really participated in this type of business," Blackman said. A visit from Hot Mama's Espresso coffee-shop owner Cathy Rasley helped the students prepare.

The students each have a job, whether taking orders, delivering to classes, or doing dishes and stocking supplies. Each student has a blue apron and blue hat as part of their work uniforms, which hang in the classroom when not in use.

Matthew Farr, 19, is the designated chef, and a few days each week makes baked goods that are part of the cafe's offerings.

"We make cookies, cupcakes, muffins and Rice-Krispies treats," he said. Farr said he volunteered as chef, and had baked before in a previous class.

"I've enjoyed the cooking a lot," he said.

Reardon's job, she explained, is to prepare the cups by writing the teacher's names and room number. Another student then makes the deliveries.

"We have a lot of people helping us out," Reardon said. "It's really a great group of students to work with."

The class set a goal of raising $3,000,and has already collected about $2,500 through the Blue Devil Cafe.

Cindy Lorang is a para-educator who works with the life skills students. She said they are gaining practical skills from running the cafe, from preparing drinks and treats, to delivering and serving, and also collecting money, counting and making deposits.

"They're getting the whole spectrum of experience," she said.

"They don't get that experience in any other classes. And it's every day."

Blackman joined the school district eight years ago as a special education teacher at Garrison Middle School before moving to Wa-Hi four years ago. Although this is her first year with the life skills class, she is helping bring positive changes to the students.

Wa-Hi next year will start offering functional academic courses in physical science, history and government, geared specifically for students with Individualized Education Programs.

Blackman is dismissive of focusing on all that students with disabilities can't do.

"I think everyone deserves an authentic high school experience," Blackman said. "Once you accomodate and adapt, everybody really can learn."

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