Special education students at Sacajawea Middle School learn life skills at Thunderbean Coffee

Ms. Cole’s class of students developmentally disabled young adults cannot help but get incredibly excited when she asks the simple question, “what day is it?”

In unison, her students scream out, “COFFEE DAY!”

You don’t have to be worried though, the aren’t getting ready for a coffee break at the young age of 12. The middle schoolers double as baristas for Thunderbean Coffee at their school.

Each Wednesday and Friday, they spend their time first and second period classes making coffee deliveries all around the school.

“I think about typical teenagers and how they are out babysitting and mowing lawns in middle school so my kids need those skills that they could possibly use to get employed,” explained Melaina Cole, a special education teacher at Sacajawea Middle School.

Teachers place their orders and she brews and steams their drinks of choice.

“I never knew I’d have dual endorsement in espresso as well as special education,” laughed Melaina Cole.

Then it’s up to the students to find the classrooms and engage with the teachers.

Dakota Crowe is one of those students. He’s an 8th grader who’s turned himself in to one of the latte leaders, helping his classmates navigate the busy hallways with six hot drinks in a cart.

“I help him around the mats,” explained Dakota as he guided classmate Jesse around a sharp turn.

For Dakota, it’s the interactions he enjoys most.

“I like to see the class and the teachers,” he shared.

Oh, and the tips. Teachers often hand the students pieces of candy, pencils or stickers as a thank you.

In the few months Thunderbean Coffee has existed, the community has rallied around the students. Jamelli Coffee Roasters have donated coffee shop machinery and supplies, so help deal with the demand. Inside the school, different classes have also lended a hand.

Special education teacher Erika Leland, who helped bring the idea to Sacajawea Middle School after seeing it’s success elsewhere, shared “one of the things the pre-engineering class decided to do for us was make 3D design sleeves that we can carry with us.”

While Ms. Cole makes the coffee, Ms. Leland helps the students with deliveries. Leland says she likes to have Dakota and his classmates out in the hallway as students change classes.

“I think its great for the kids to get out in to the other parts of the school, areas they might not get into or classrooms they wouldn’t have reasons to be in,” she added.

Learning job skills and feeling comfortable forming new friendships.

Dakota added, “I like to see the smiles on the teachers it makes me happy and gets me through my day.”

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