Wayne High School teacher Elizabeth Bauer has discovered just what a Keurig can do – and it's more than brewing coffee.
Her students began using the single-serve coffeemaker this year to operate a bistro at Wayne. It is one of the project-based learning opportunities offered to about 45 special education students in the functional skills program. Along with gaining customer service skills, the experience has improved students' communication and better integrated them in the broader Wayne community.
“The kids love it,” Bauer said.
Wayne's efforts with special education students haven't gone unnoticed. The Arc of Indiana honored the Fort Wayne Community school with the 2017 Education Impact Award, which recognizes those making a significant impact in assuring students getting special education services receive a quality, inclusive education.
Data from the Indiana Department of Education indicate Wayne's special education population comprises 244 students this academic year, or nearly 20 percent of the student body.
The functional skills program serves moderately disabled students and focuses on work and life skills with the goal of helping students become more independent. Generally, students in the program will finish high school with a certificate, not a diploma. Some might also earn a few credits for classes in which they excel.
Like other Wayne students, functional skills participants learn about such subjects as math and science but in a different way. Shaun Gray's classroom, for instance, features an illustrated periodic table of elements: a salt shaker for sodium, jewelry for gold and a thermometer for mercury.
Gray customizes tasks for each student's abilities. It's the same work, she said, “just different for their levels.”
Along with other functional skills teachers, Gray has a project-based learning theme – a café. Students provide the workforce, from chef to wait staff to cashier.
The opportunity arose when Wayne lost its home economics teacher, Principal John Houser said. Students prepare the meal at the former home ec cooking stations, and they serve staff members lunch in an adjoining room.
A sign prominently displayed in the kitchen states food throwing, horseplay and laziness are not allowed. Another poster reminds students to wear gloves and adhere to other sanitary guidelines, rules senior Santiago Norfleet recited when asked about the café after hours.
Norfleet and sophomore Blaze Buettgenbach noted that day's $4 lunch included meatloaf, the prep work for which was completed the previous day. Students track how many teachers they serve, Buettgenbach said, showing off a tally.
Houser said the café has evolved with the students, transforming from a buffet-style eatery to an eatery with wait staff.
“They've grown into the position,” the principal said.
Buettgenbach also participates in the other project-based learning themes, a supplies store and the bistro.
The $1 coffee orders keep students busy during first period.
“We make a lot of business,” Buettgenbach said.
Bauer credits the school's staff for supporting the morning ritual, noting her students write thank-you cards to their customers each month and include a few free drink coupons for their support.
“It is asking a lot (of) teachers,” Bauer said.
Through the bistro, students have established relationships with teachers and befriended classmates they normally wouldn't meet, Bauer said.
She said the chance to interact with people outside the functional skills program is significant.
“They are self-contained in this hallway,” Bauer said.
They can, however, experience the student body cheering them on, Houser said, noting Wayne participates in Champions Together. It is a partnership between the Indiana High School Athletic Association and Special Olympics Indiana that promotes servant leadership among student-athletes and student-athletes with intellectual disabilities.
At Wayne, Champions Together basketball games are played in conjunction with regular games, Houser said, so participants have a large audience.
“They get the full experience,” he said.