Coffee cart

Examining how special education staff has integrated business experience into its curriculum


Kathryn Foo

Senior Aarthi Krishnan brews coffee during her ACT vocational class. Photo by Kathryn Foo

Kathryn Foo

Every Thursday morning, a fresh cup of coffee arrives at Chinese teacher Zoey Liu’s door. After teachers submit their orders to the MVHS coffee cart the day before, the Academic Community Transitions (ACT) Program spends its first period serving orders, working neatly in an assembly line to brew coffee and tea, add cream and pour cups of orange juice before a student personally delivers the order. 

The MVHS coffee cart is a business run by the MVHS special education program, where students in the program’s vocational course get hands-on experience with basic job skills. The cart was intended to simulate real-world work experience, teaching students the responsibilities of a job while furthering their interpersonal skills as they interact with customers. The cart doubles as a fundraiser for the special education program.

The special education program sends out a menu to teachers every Wednesday evening. Photo | Kathryn Foo

Special education teacher Lisa McCahill is largely responsible for coordinating the coffee cart, receiving the orders in a form and guiding students through the process of coffee and tea brewing. She sees firsthand the growth each individual student achieves as the year progresses.

“You would have a student who has zero knowledge of what goes into a coffee, and I think that’s the triumph for him — that he knew nothing about making coffee for others and now he can do it independently,” McCahill said. “Then, there are the students that are just shy, and they don’t go around campus and deliver coffee and talk to people they don’t know and enter a classroom where there might be students. So, their little triumph is just being visible and going out into the community, even if they have a script and it’s just, ‘Hello, here’s your coffee.’ That’s a huge success for them.”

Special education student and senior Jocelyn Nguyen says the students themselves often enjoy working the cart, finding fun in making the coffee. Nguyen reflects on what she’s learned through the process, with her experience at the coffee cart being a positive memory.

Senior Jocelyn Nguyen begins preparing a cup of tea for her order. Photo by Kathryn Foo

“[I learned] that there’s medium and [dark] roast,” Nguyen said. “I’m happy [when I make coffee]. It’s enjoyable and I like doing it.”

Special education student and senior Aarthi Krishnan agrees with Nguyen, as she enjoys learning how to make freshly-squeezed orange juice and use a Keurig coffee machine. She appreciates the delivery process, where she goes to each classroom and hand-delivers the teachers their order. 

“[The teachers] are happy [when I deliver coffee],” Krishnan said. “And them being happy makes me happy.”

McCahill hopes that more teachers will interact with the cart and provide additional opportunities for the students to practice their skills. Ultimately, she sees the cart as an integral part of the vocational class, having achieved its goal of giving students firsthand experience of working and furthering their communication skills in the process. 

“It’s not successful in the traditional terms of, ‘Oh, we’re making a lot of money,’” McCahill said. “It’s successful in the progress that you see each individual student make in their particular job skill, whether it’d be an interpersonal skill or a technical skill.”