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Special Education students serve cups of kindness in Denair
denair cups of kindness
Denair High School student interns Obed Gonzalez, Danielle Tigner, Austin McGregor and Fernando Carrasco are pictured on their first day working at the Coyotes Cup of Kindness coffee cart — a work experience program for Special Education students meant to prepare them for life after high school (Photo contributed).

Students in Denair High School’s Special Education program are learning workforce skills one cup of coffee at a time thanks to a new cart on campus.

Coyotes Cup of Kindness is a mobile coffee cart that has created a work-based learning environment for special needs students, providing the basic job functioning and social skills that they need in order to be prepared for life after high school. DHS paraprofessional and cart advisor Destiny Silva came up with the idea as a way to make a difference for students who typically don’t see such opportunities.

“What a way to give those kids a sense of independence, as well as self-worth,” Silva said. “It is so important to me that they know they are contributing members to this society.”

Silva first brought her idea up to her father, and considered taking out a business loan to bring the coffee cart to life. When DHS Principal Kara Backman heard of the idea, however, the pair met to discuss the cart and the rest, Silva says, is history.

Coyotes Cup of Kindness made its debut on Nov. 8 and has since provided drinks like mochas, macchiatos and teas to the Denair community. The cart sells coffee in front of the Denair Unified School District office during the week and at most home sporting events, and Silva hopes that with Special Education students preparing the community’s coffee, customers will see the students are just as capable as others.

“We have this stigma on children with disabilities as if they aren’t able to do everyday things just like everyone else,” Silva said. “I hope this coffee cart starts to bring knowledge and awareness when it comes to focusing on the ability instead of the disability.”

Six student interns work the coffee cart, serving in roles such as barista, cashier and maintenance/stocker. Students rotate their job roles each shift, giving them the chance to experience the different skill sets that come with each position.

“We want our students to have a variety of learning experiences so they are fully prepared for any job in the real world,” Silva said.

To prepare the student interns, Silva first sat them down and explained what the basic roles would look like, she said, as well as how the every day cart operations would work. Another important aspect of preparing the students was team bonding, and the students spent a lot of time together before the cart’s grand opening, learning each other’s strengths and weaknesses. And, of course, the students received plenty of hands-on training with the different beverage-making machines.

“The kids got the hang of it within a couple of hours,” Silva said.

Silva expects to see students involved with the coffee cart expand both their social and work-based skills tremendously over time, and while the quality of the coffee is important, the quantity of skills mastered is the coffee cart’s true measurement of success.

“We aren’t just focused on the coffee making, because that’s not what it’s about,” Silva said. “What it’s really about is making sure our students are able to be completely independent once they walk that stage come graduation.”

Money earned by Coyotes Cup of Kindness will go towards the Special Education department’s 18- to 22-year-old transition program, Silva said. She expects to see the cart grow in the upcoming years and eventually expand into a work experience program within the District as early as next semester, partnering with local businesses to get middle and high school Special Education students working out in the community.

Silva also hopes to one day open her own coffee shop where she will employ people with disabilities, she said.

“Hopefully, my students can get prepared at the coffee cart, and once they graduate, they can come work for me,” Silva said.

Coyotes Cup of Kindness sells drinks in front of the DUSD office, located at 3460 Lester Rd. in Denair, from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. on Monday through Friday and also from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesday through Friday.