By Ashley Dispenziere, RISE program teacher, Jefferson Township High School
Every Friday morning at 7:15, the hallways of Jefferson Township High (JTHS) school are buzzing with the hustle and bustle of students and staff, anxiously awaiting the weekend. The sea of blue and gold might appear to be like any other high school, but there is a rich smell of coffee separating this Falcon Family from the rest.
Jefferson Java, a student-run coffee shop, serves the students and staff as they enter the building. The brightly colored paper straws, homemade muffins and student-brewed coffee are all trademarks of the coffee shop, but what draws in the customers is the excellent service, which is provided by the high school’s multiply disabled program, titled RISE, which stands for Real-World Interdisciplinary Structured Education.
Jefferson Java was the result of a collaboration with Alyssa Guagenti a life skills teacher at Jefferson Township Middle School. Guagenti starts students at the middle school with basic customer service expectations, and once students graduate to the high school level, their skills are honed and applied at a larger scale.
As Jefferson Java became a staple of every Falcon’s high school experience, we started to expand the opportunities we were providing students. We went from just serving coffee to making muffins. We researched deals at the grocery store, budgeted for our shopping trips, and used social media platforms to advertise. We even began a delivery service, which went well for students learning how to navigate the building independently as they responded to online orders.
As our coffee shop continues to grow, we continue to grow as well. A student is even creating an app for mobile orders from Jefferson Java that keeps our customer base expanding. The app also keeps staff and students up to date on our hours, and they order from us when they are on the run from one class to another. The interdisciplinary connections our shop has created for students and staff are truly remarkable.
The students in the RISE program at JTHS begin as freshman learning and applying real-world workplace readiness skills through this coffee shop. The students use technology to advertise for their shop, make shopping lists based on inventory, calculate an estimated cost for their weekly grocery-shopping trips, restock inventory, bake the breakfast treats, and prepare the coffee pots all before the usual Friday rush. These key skills of budgeting for shopping trips, taking inventory, restocking inventory, and preparing meals and goods to sell are all skills that later lend themselves to their adult lives once they leave JTHS—a goal of any successful high school program.
While these workplace readiness skills are crucial to their development into productive citizens and community members, the social skills practiced and reinforced through the coffee shop are what makes it such an amazing place to grab a morning pick-me-up. The baristas of Jefferson Java have made lasting friendships through their trade. They walk through the hallways with their navy and gold uniforms on and students who were once customers are now their friends. They wave to each other, say “Hi!,” and even make weekend plans with them.
Jefferson Java, home to the strongest coffee on campus, is sure to add a kick to anyone’s Friday, and keep the Falcon Family ready to work at the end of a long week. The social and emotional skills learned, practiced, and applied by all involved are the driving force behind the shop’s slogan: “Birds of a feather Java together!”
Editor’s note: This article was submitted prior to school building closures aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19. The staff of Jefferson Java look forward to serving java one again when their school building reopens.