WALLINGFORD — As Rosemary Schaeffer and Lisa Policastro read off coffee orders, students from High Road Academy Upper School worked behind the counter of the school coffee shop to fulfill them.
Opened in September, Cup of Inspiration is a coffee shop in the High Road Academy-Upper School, 29 Village Lane. The shop is operated by students in the school’s transition program who range from 18 to 21 years old, according to Schaeffer, the transition program specialist. High Road Schools and Academies in the state and country serve students “with a wide range of special education classifications, primarily students with learning disabilities and especially students with multiple disabilities,” according to the Specialized Education Services website.
Decorated with black chairs and tables, with candles and lamps hanging from the ceiling and walls providing ambient light, the coffee shop provides a relaxing atmosphere for the staff and students at the school. Behind the counter, a chalkboard features different coffee, creamer and tea flavors. Similar to other coffee shops, Cup of Inspiration even offers a “perk card,” where customers can receive their fifth beverage free after buying four.
The coffee shop is open from 7:45 to 8:45 a.m. It later reopens for half-hour shifts at 10 a.m. and noon, where students can fulfill any other orders from school staff. During each shift, the students walk to each school on the campus and collect staff orders. As a staff member reads the orders, the students grab the appropriate coffee flavors and used the Keurig machine to prepare the drinks. As they’re told how much cream and sugar to add, the students leave the cups of coffee in a plastic bin — ready to be delivered.
A cup of coffee costs .25 cents, which Schaeffer said is reasonable. She explained that opening Cup of Inspiration wasn’t to make a profit, but to have students practice different skills and work with others. While working in groups can be difficult, students focus on the work and “automatically take leadership roles,” according to LaShanda Crump, a teaching assistant.
During the 10 a.m. shift, as three students worked on a set of orders from one school, it became hectic as more staff orders came through the door. A few staff members also stopped in to put in their own orders. As students worked to fulfill all the orders, staff members observed and assisted whenever they could. In the future, Schaeffer hopes to be able to sit back and simply supervise, while watching the students operate the coffee shop.
The idea to open Cup of Inspiration, Schaeffer said, came from Brooke Violante, the chief school director of High Road Schools in Connecticut, who hoped it would “lead towards student independence.” Over the summer, construction took place, and students helped paint the home of their new business.
“The students learn skills working in the coffee shop and it raises their self-esteem and self-confidence,” Schaeffer said. “They also develop social skills and math skills with counting change.”
Frank Robacker, director of vocational and transition services at High Road Academy-Upper School, stopped in the shop to make himself a cup of coffee. He viewed Cup of Inspiration as a “springboard” for students to work in the real world.
“What we do here is offer different opportunity for students to learn on site and to practice on site. They learn skills here in a safe environment and bring it out to the community to work with others,” he said. “... Despite the students’ disability, there’s something suited for them.”