Coffee Carts Help Students Learn Skills While Fueling School Staff
Armani writes a cheerful greeting on a drink cup.
Drinks, each with an individual greeting, are lined up for delivery as part of North Side High School’s coffee cart.
Cytlaly checks on the progress of eggs and sausages heating in an oven at North Side High School. The eggs and sausage are ingredients in breakfast sandwiches students sell through the coffee cart program at North Side.
Easterseals Arc staff member Hannah Butler, left, helps as Cytlaly and DJ build breakfast sandwiches as part of North Side High School’s coffee cart.
Ashley Gerig, Pre-ETS coordinator at Wayne High School, reviews coffee-cart orders with students as they begin their work making drinks and food for teachers and staff at the school.
DJ, right, finishes iced drinks as teacher Jordyn Painter, center and Easterseals Arc staff member Hannah Butler load orders onto carts for delivery.
Kai, right, and Armani deliver a coffee-cart order to North Side High School Registrar Salome Anthony.

Armani, 18, concentrates closely, writing upbeat greetings on each paper cup, such as “Ur pretty special,” “Have a great day,” and “Ur the best.” Adding those uplifting flourishes for teachers’ or staff members’ orders is part of her work for North Side High School’s coffee cart.

Armani is one of the students who operates the coffee cart program on Thursday and Friday mornings at North Side High School. Students at Wayne High School run a similar coffee cart, serving Monday through Friday mornings.

The coffee carts at both schools are operated as part of the Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) provided by Easterseals Arc in cooperation with Fort Wayne Community Schools. Through Pre-ETS, students with disabilities explore options for employment and post-secondary education while learning job skills along the way.

At Wayne, the classroom where students prepare drinks and food orders is part of what Pre-ETS coordinator Ashley Gerig calls a “mini apartment” where students learn independent living skills as well as work-based skills.

Andrea Williams, the Easterseals Arc staff member who runs the Pre-ETS program at North Side, said, “We have a student who’s working in a restaurant, so technically not a barista, but he’s using his cooking skills, his safety skills, communication skills, social skills. He learned that at coffee cart.”

At both schools, most of the students’ work fulfilling orders takes place in the span of about an hour, between 7:30 and 8:30 a.m. The students have to communicate effectively with one another to get things done in that small timeframe. Students who know more than one job need to exercise leadership, finding places where they can fill in and move the process along. Delivering drinks and food to offices and classrooms gives them practice in customer service.

At Wayne, students offer hot chocolate, hot and iced coffee, and several kinds of tea. Bagels and fresh breakfast sandwiches – egg and cheese on English muffins – are also available. The students at Wayne fill an average of 15 orders a day.

At North Side, the menu includes hot and iced coffee and tea, hot chocolate, and breakfast sandwiches. The sandwiches are sausage or ham, egg and cheese on a biscuit or English muffin. The coffee cart crew at North Side sells an average of 27 drinks and six sandwiches in a day.

Typically, juniors and seniors are the ones who work the coffee carts. At both schools, the students putting together orders seem to enjoy it so much that there are always younger students who would like to join the crew.

DJ, 17, knows several jobs so well that he can jump in and help at any station where kids are feeling pressed.

“I always help with the sausage and ham sandwiches,” DJ said.

Although DJ hasn’t taken the skills he’s learned any further from the classroom than brewing coffee for his mom at home, he thinks it might lead to a job sometime.

He said he might like “working in a fast-food restaurant, a Starbucks or something.”