Coffeeology cafe helps teach students communication skills


Nikki Suzani, Managing Editor

Each Monday during A period, the smell of banana bread and freshly-made espresso wafts down the halls as special education students host their weekly Coffeeology cafe. Students budget money, cook food, operate coffee machines and use Vehicle Transportation Agency (VTA) transit to buy the necessary ingredients. As part of Gunn’s Future Students Vocational Education program, Coffeeology gives students experience in job-related areas in order to support their career development.

Program advisor and Education Specialist Sandra Conklin believes that the program allows students to gain valuable life experiences. “The purpose of the program is to teach our students to practice their social skills through functional academics,” she said. “They do all the shopping, baking, measuring, learning how to handle money and talking to teachers. It’s really like running a small business.”

Junior Shauncy Lim participates in the Coffeeology program and finds it an enjoyable way to learn how to make both food and coffee. “I would say the coolest thing I’ve done was learn how to make cappuccino and a latte,” she said. “We have an espresso maker, and we put the pot in the espresso maker, and we have a lever which we press down to start making cappuccino or espresso.”

In order to get the ingredients to create the food, students have to plan their bus routes and use comparison shopping in order to use their money effectively. “Usually, we shop at Safeway, sometimes Walmart, and we usually try to pick the best price for the brand that we buy,” junior T.J. Anderson said. “We take some VTA buses through VTA routes and plan our trips and our returns.” They also have the opportunity to bring the recipes they learn back to their families so even more people can enjoy the fruits of their harvest.

Like it is with all small businesses, running Coffeeology isn’t always smooth sailing. “I think there were also some problems with the coffee machine between regular and decaf,” Anderson said. “Apparently we were actually using two coffee machines that were both making caffeinated, and one needed to be the decaf, but we didn’t know that they were both making caffeinated. So, communicating between staff is important.”

Still, the students and staff are always ready to deal with any difficulties they face. “We’re learning about kitchen safety and sometimes you make something and it doesn’t turn out as you’d hoped it would,” Conklin said. “So we just remake it and get it ready on time for the customers to come in.”

Since Coffeeology is entirely self-funded, budgeting and money management are important aspects of the program. “With money, we get the cash box and divide the money into five dollars, one dollars and the coins,” Lim said. “We set them all up and see how much we have. After that we calculate how much we’ve got and how much we’ve given change to the customers.”

The program also promotes social skills by allowing the students to carry on conversa- tions with staff. “They are learning to make eye contact, learning what other questions [the students] could ask and continuing a conversation,” Conklin said. “If you say, ‘How was your weekend?’ and they say, ‘Oh great, I went to see a movie,’ then they’re learning to continue the conversation like, ‘What movie did you see?’ and, ‘Oh I’ve seen that,’ or, ‘Oh, my favorite movie is this.’”

Local businesses have also worked with Coffeeology to get the program on its feet and ensure that students have the resources necessary to run it. “Nespresso hosted us at their shop in Town & Country and taught the kids how to use all their equipment and how to make the cappuccinos and lattes, later donating cups and syrup,” Conklin said. “We also learned how to be baristas from Peet’s Coffee, and they made us a bunch of little samples of chocolate and coffee, so that was cool too.”

Gunn staff are an integral part of keeping Coffeeology alive. “A cool part of the program is that we rely on our staff to come in and help us with social skills and provide us with opportunities to have conversation and work on social skills,” Conklin said. “We have a great group of regular staff that come in every Monday or every Coffeeology day to make sure to get in here and chat with the kids, and that’s been really special too.”