EDISON, NJ.- Community based instruction is the foundation on which the Special Education students at John Adams Middle School learn how to prepare for the world outside of public school. Teacher, Kristina Cabrera, and her team of para-professionals, Robert Reif, Katrina Wheeler, and Sapreetha Goteti, have created a rigorous schedule that the class of five students follow each day.
Now finishing its first year of operation, students run a highly successful Coffee Shop each Friday.
“We begin preparing on Thursday afternoon,” Cabrera pointed out. “Students portion out small cups with eggs and cheese, slice pork roll and English muffins, cut coffee cakes, and wrap them in preparation. Our biggest seller lately has been Duck Donuts, a new company that is based in Middletown.”
Vivrima, one of the students in the class, practices her social skills as taught by Mrs. Genovese, the school's speech teacher, by visiting teachers on Thursday afternoons and reminding them that Coffee Shop will be held on Friday. Vivrima is the official greeter and cashier in the Coffee Shop, assisted by Sam and Rishabh. Ben handles the hot beverages with care at the coffee bar, and Nick and Bobby serve as the sandwich makers.
The money that the students make from the Coffee Shop and their other fundraisers, including pretzel sales and the school store, which the class operates during the Friday lunch periods, is used to finance the trips that students make during the year. For example, they go bowling and swimming at the local YMCA.
An extremely popular endeavor is the once a month shopping that the students do as a service for the staff at John Adams.
“The teachers give us their food orders and money and we then go to Shop Rite on Route 1 and fill the shopping orders, Cabrera explained. "Everyone is very grateful and looks forward to this service. One of our teacher's wives e-mailed us a thank you note telling us how much she appreciates our shopping for her . . . and adding something to her shopping list that she had forgotten to order.”
Aside from their work in the Coffee Shop and food shopping service, the John Adams Special Education students enjoy several after school activities. Jarod Sthaver, a Physical Education teacher, runs a dance club for the students. They are included in a fitness club and an art club as well. In this way the youngsters have an opportunity to interact with the other students in the school.
Special Education Supervisor Cathy Swayze, who gave Cabrera and her team high marks for their ingenuity and success, stated, “The goal is to include the students in the school and community. It's about meaningful and purposeful progress. I have known most of these kids since their days in pre-school, and their progrress has been amazing. It's all about getting them ready for the real world.”
At the 9:45 a.m. change of period, an onslaught of customers entered the Coffee Shop, prepared to make their purchases. They were greeted with smiles and socially appropriate questions as the teachers gave their orders. Community based learning is the key to instruction for youngsters with special needs and Cabrera intends to expand the program further in 2015-16.