Personalization, skill-building, and coffee!
A Best-Practice Reflection by: Greg Keezer, Oromocto High School
In November 2018, I had the opportunity to attend a conference at UNB’s College for Extended Learning. The conference was centered on organizing programs for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder and providing opportunities for job readiness. As a new Resource teacher, the conference was especially helpful. Planning for students on an individualized program requires creativity and imagining what can be available with some careful thinking. In a school setting, it can be difficult to find opportunities outside of the traditional classroom that prepare students for life after high school.
The best part about attending the conference was meeting Andrea Cowan and Ashley Freeman. What were the odds that while attending a conference in Fredericton with attendees from a number of not-for profits and government bodies that I would meet two Resource teachers from Moncton who would have a lasting impact on how I practiced my role at my school? During open conversations and discussion around the conference presenter’s lecture, I came to find out about a coffee program run at Moncton High School. Andrea and Ashley were fantastic to speak with, and they were so open in sharing how they were using a coffee shop model to plan for their individualized students.
Visiting Moncton High School was an opportunity I won’t soon forget. Apart from it being a beautiful new school, once you step inside you quickly get an appreciation of the culture. Everyone I met was so gracious and hospitable: I could tell it was a place where staff and students enjoyed spending their weekdays.
Being a rather large school, when Andrea met me at the office, we had quite a walk to get to the in-school coffee shop. During our walk, Andrea and I were able to catch up and go over the schedule for the morning. When we arrived to the coffee shop, I still had no idea what to expect.
What I assumed the coffee shop would look like and its reality were two very different things. Andrea had the program so well organized. Students were scheduled to work one of six stations designated to fill out order forms teachers submitted at the beginning of the year. Coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and more – students were assigned a specific station for a month or so to develop familiarity with their tasks. Most of the stations had a “manager” – an EA who oversaw the production of the hot and cold beverages to ensure orders were being filled correctly and workstations kept tidy. Older students, those in grade 11 and 12, served the role as “supervisors” and were given small leadership tasks to promote the operation running smoothly.
All these moving pieces worked together to fill roughly 70 customized orders each day. Each staff member’s mug that had been collected the previous day lined the corresponding station according to their order. Students followed the order form with the help of their managers and had all beverage orders made and delivered in less than an hour. I can’t emphasize enough how the system created by Andrea and her team was so well put together. Every one of the students had a role to play and knew what to do. As with part-time jobs a typical student may have after school, managers and supervisors were put in place to answer questions and provide direction.
Each school organizes the caseloads for Resource teachers differently. At Oromocto High School for example, we try to align our caseloads with the letter groupings that organize Administration and Guidance. This creates relatively even caseloads of students who follow Individualized, Adjusted, and Accommodated plans. At Moncton High School, caseloads were divided by grade level, with the exception of Andrea and Ashley. These two Resource teachers took on and divided all caseloads of students on an individualized PLP. Because of this strategy and cooperation from their Resource staff, Andrea could spend most of her day in the coffee shop. Overseeing this program daily helps Andrea to create Goals and Outcomes specific for each student and monitor the progress of each student involved. The coffee shop program isn’t simply put in place so these students can exist in the building outside of the traditional classroom. The students participating in Andrea’s program (ranging from 1-3 periods of the day), are developing skills specific to them and their plans after high school. The key to their success is on the individualization of the program and how each student is put in a position to succeed and grow into a more independent young adult who will have a richer life once they complete their high school program.
The coffee shop program at Moncton High School is special. For any educator who has wondered how we can create opportunities for our high-needs students within our schools, they have to see for themselves the wonderful program being run five days a week. That’s right – students a part of Moncton High’s Coffee Shop (who can begin as early as grade 9) get every school day of the week to develop real-world work experience that will benefit them for the rest of their lives. Just imagine how much richer these students’ high school experience is and the skills they exit high school with, versus the student of another school who doesn’t get this opportunity.
I should end by saying how appreciative I am of iHub for providing the funding for this opportunity; to my Principal Jeff Holder for giving me the green light; and to Mike BeLong of Moncton High School for allowing me to visit and take time away from his busy Resource staff. Innovation in our buildings is reliant on leaders supporting their staff to take chances to innovate in hopes of improving their schools. Thank you Mr. Holder and Mr. BeLong for being leaders who support such innovation. Thank you Ross and Michelle for continuing to fund projects such as mine with iHub – you have been a wonderful source of inspiration and confidence.