A Closer Look: Budding baristas bring student flavor to the Annex Café

It’s Monday morning at the Plaza Annex and everyone knows what that means — Milky Way coffee is the flavor of the day. Milky Way Mondays have been a tradition at the Plaza Annex Café since it opened its doors last year and today is no exception.

Jade Mitchell uses the cash register to ring up a sale at the Laskin Road Annex Café.

Jade Mitchell uses the cash register to ring up a sale at the Laskin Road Annex Café.

The baristas are serving up steaming cups of dark roasted coffee, enticing customers with puff pastries and prepping the lunch menu. But this isn’t your ordinary coffee shop. After all, the baristas are VBCPS secondary students by day, learning what it’s like to staff a commercial kitchen and cater special events.

The Plaza Annex Café, like its predecessor the Laskin Road Annex Café, is a component of the work experience program developed by the Office of Programs for Exceptional Children. This program embodies the school division’s strategic plan Compass to 2015 — seeking to have students exit the school system with the skills needed in the working world. Both locations provide students a variety of experiences they would not find in the typical classroom setting.

Kaylen Rice, a Kempville High School student, enjoys his time at the Laskin Road Annex Café.

“I like to work,” Rice said.

He, along with his teachers and family, hopes that the skills he’s learning at the Café will help him get a job after graduation. And Julie Harlow, a Green Run High School student, said she has learned to prepare hot dogs for the lunch crowd on Friday at the Annex.

But the Cafés offer more than just practical work skills to students. According to Ron Hill, teacher at the Laskin Road Annex, the lessons learned while at the Café are invaluable.

“I’ve found the Annex Café to be a perfect place for a student to practice and learn social and communication skills— both of which are necessary if a student is going to be successful in a work place,” Hill said.

Tara Ingram has worked on the staff of both Annexes.

“The thing I like about the Cafes is that they offer similar, yet different, opportunities for the students,” Ingram said. “The program gives the students an opportunity to learn in a simulated work environment with the safety and routine of a school setting.”

Parents agree. Joanna Bryant, whose son Austin works in the cafe at the Plaza Annex,

Austin Bryant prepares gourmet dog biscuits at the Plaza Annex Café.

Austin Bryant prepares gourmet dog biscuits at the Plaza Annex Café.

believes the program has helped her son on several levels.

“The Work Experience Program (WEP) has offered Austin the opportunity to build a variety of independent living, social and work skills that challenge and grow along with him,” Bryant said.

But the students and families the Cafés serve are not the only satisfied customers. The annex businesses have an army of regulars who stop by for coffee, for a bite to eat and for the daily interactions with the friendly student staff. Sharon Cooper works in the Instructional Resource Center at the Plaza Annex and visits the Café every day.

“I love everything about the Plaza Annex Café! The food is yummy, and the students and staff are terrific,” Cooper said. “It’s such a joy to see the students’ self-confidence and skills improve as the year progresses—they’re blossoming before my eyes. What a fantastic program for these great kids!”

If you would like additional information about the Work Experience Program, Annex Cafés, or other programs within the school division, please contact the Parent Support and Information Center at 757.263.2066.

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