By: Kimberly Uelmen, HSSD Communications Specialist
Picture it: it’s Friday morning, the sun is rising, you are feeling a sense of joy, and the comforting aroma of coffee fills the air.
Where has your imagination led you? A beach? Starbucks? A favorite room in your home?
For the Bay Harbor Brew Crew, it is Cheryl DeBaker’s classroom.
Brew Crew is an opportunity for students who receive special education services to practice independence and to grow confidence in their skills as they deliver coffee to Bay Harbor staff members.
DeBaker, Early Childhood Special Education Teacher, said, “Sometimes these students consider themselves the underdogs. Brew Crew gives them purpose and enhances their leadership skills.”
The idea of Brew Crew began during the 2020-21 school year in the form of a Breakfast Bunch, where students in DeBaker’s, Michele Otradovec’s, Jackie Kordasiewicz’s, and Kristin Possley’s classes began the day.
“In classrooms, they were doing independent school work to start the day whereas special education students needed a way to ease into the school day,” DeBaker said. During this time, students would eat breakfast, go through the alphabet, and witness affirmations.
As the 2021-22 school year began, the special education team decided to build upon this morning ritual by adding functional opportunities for students. After discussion, they decided that Brew Crew would be an excellent opportunity for students of all abilities to learn and grow.
Brewing Up Confidence
Each month, Bay Harbor special education students gather staff coffee orders by knocking on their doors, providing picture menus, noting the orders, and explaining when the coffee will be delivered. This process encourages students to work on verbal communication, especially with teachers they may not know.
DeBaker said, “Early in the process, one student was hesitant to talk to anyone, but Brew Crew has put her in a confident place where she can talk to the teachers. Now she even likes to make special coffee deliveries during the month.”
Orders are collected on Wednesday by the Brew Crew, who then passes the instructions to classmates, who prepare the materials and coffee for the Brew Crew to deliver on Friday.
Each student has a role, which is noted by picture symbols on the classroom’s white board. Non-verbal students are paired with verbal students, emphasizing teamwork throughout the process.
Every role is important in Brew Crew. “At first, one student did not want to participate. Now, after creating positive relationships with fellow students and the Brew Crew teachers, he feels comfortable to put the pod in the Keurig,” said DeBaker. “It is a safe place to learn.”
The Bay Harbor special education team noticed that students needed more foundational support, so Brew Crew combines curriculum with real world experiences.
“Brew Crew gives students leadership opportunities to work independently and with a team,” Otradovec, Special Education Teacher, said. “It allows students with all abilities to carry their knowledge through.”
Perhaps the most impactful benefit is interaction and communication with adults outside of their programming. Possley, Special Education Teacher, added, “Students must communicate and cooperate in order to have a successful business. These opportunities for social interactions build skills that are difficult to teach without putting them in practice.”
Further, she explained that she has witnessed student self-esteem ascend throughout the year. “They really take pride in and are excited about each month’s Brew Crew,” she said.
Just as the students take pride in their work, the teaching team strives to make this experience as enjoyable as possible. Kordasiewicz, Early Childhood and Special Education Teacher, made up a song called “Coffee” which is sung to the tune of “Bingo.” She said, “The ownership portion of this program is important for our school. Academics are a huge part of this experience, but it removes the pressure of traditional learning.”
In the end, students are excited to be part of a team, to own their learning, and to have an active role in the Bay Harbor School community.
“We are excited for Friday mornings. I love to see their faces while they are functioning. They know what they are doing right down to how to put the pod in the Keurig,” said DeBaker. “It is rewarding to see them with that independence.”