‘Every Cup Makes A Difference’: Sweet Water students learn valuable skills by opening on-campus coffee shop

Students with special needs at Sweet Water High School have formed the Sweet Water Coffee Shop, leading with their motto that “Every cup makes a difference.”

The shop’s opening day was a month ago, after several weeks of training and instruction from the school’s two special education teachers, Lauren Blakeney and Rachael Copeland. Blakeney teaches K-12 Multiple Abilities and Copeland teaches 9-12 Inclusion and Transition.

Students learn manners and customer service through their work at the coffee shop.

In the weeks leading up to the opening, students learned about handling money, mathematics, customer service, cleanliness and other important life and business skills.

“We want to teach them some skills that can carry over to another place,” Copeland said.

The coffee shop is open on Wednesdays and Fridays to faculty and staff. Orders are placed the day before and include an option of coffee, creamer and sweetener. Copeland also said that they plan on adding pastries to the menu in January and sending out a survey for other drinks of interest.

Blakeney and Copeland are also considering letting students place their own orders on special days in response to the interest among the student body.

The eight students involved work in shifts, with one covering Wednesday and the other covering Friday. After receiving the orders, the students make the coffee from K-Cup Pods, deliver the drinks, accept the $1 payment and punch the loyalty card that allows a free coffee after every 10 cups. The order forms are also color-coded so students who are non-readers can fill orders by matching colors.

The coffee shop runs from 7:30 – 8:30 a.m. and serves 20-25 faculty and staff.

Funded through donorschoose.org in just two days, the coffee shop’s revenue is currently going back to the original $800 that it took to purchase all of the supplies. After that, any money made will go towards taking the students on a workforce-based field trip.

SWHS Principal Becky Smith supported the coffee shop from the beginning.

“I think it’s a phenomenal concept, and it’s going to help open doors for the kids that it serves,” Principal Becky Williams said.

Copeland and Blakeney both hope to see the coffee shop grow to a permanent fixture year after year.

“We want it to be a positive, permanent thing for all of the kids. Something like this can change a school culture,” Copeland said.

(This article originally appeared in the Wednesday, October 30 issue of the Demopolis Times.)