Social skills, life skills & job skills, one beverage at a time

Teacher Jackie Pnazek helps Cameron Blouw pour coffee for his customer, teacher Matt Jen

Third-graders Cameron Blouw and Javier Garcia made their way down the hall of West Godwin Elementary last Thursday, pushing a cart stocked with carafes of coffee, hot water for tea, and a variety of cold, fizzy beverages. They stopped outside a classroom, and Javier entered and approached the teacher.

“Would you like to purchase a beverage from the beverage cart?” he asked.

The beverage cart is a new service at West Godwin, making its first run on Oct.16. It seems like a simple enough undertaking — students selling  drinks to staff every Tuesday and Thursday morning — but for the four students who operate the cart, it’s providing valuable lessons that will transfer to other avenues in life, says Jacqueline Pnazek, resource room teacher at West Godwin.

Javier Garcia stocks the cart

Hands-on

Pnazek’s resource room is a classroom for students in special education. There, students receive targeted instruction based on their current needs.

“The end goal is to get all my students back into general education full-time,” she said. “The daily goal is to make sure that each student is able to succeed in general education, whether that be in academics, socially, or behaviorally.”

The beverage cart was Pnazek’s brainchild. She created it, her mother embroidered the aprons for it, and she accompanies the students who operate it.

The idea, she said, is to provide meaningful opportunities for students to work on social skills, life skills and job skills. Talking with staff and teachers and offering them beverages, then serving the beverages and handling the payment hits on all of these skills. It’s not a real moneymaker — the money earned restocks the cart — but that’s not the point.

“Being able to make change and handle money is such a life skill, and some of the students need that hands-on, real-life experience in order to make the connection and really learn,” said Pnazek.

Cameron Blouw and Javier Garcia pose with the coffee carafes and cash box after serving drinks to teachers and staff at West Godwin Elementary

Honing their Skills

“Wait until she’s off the phone,” Pnazek told Cam, who was eager to offer a beverage to school secretary Kristi Bast last week.

The students who work the beverage cart are in speech and language therapy, so operating the cart is a good exercise, said Pnazek, in using complete sentences and responding appropriately to the adults they are serving.

“The students love being able to go around to teachers,” said Pnazek, “They really loved the aprons on day one; they said it made them feel ‘working,’ which I love.”

Cameron Blouw stirs coffee before serving it to a teacher

Pnazek said careers in the retail and service industries are appropriate future jobs for many of her students. She wants them to begin loving it from a young age so they are excited about it and have some experience to help them should they consider such careers.

Third-grader DeAnvia George and first-grader Colston Minnema operate the cart in addition to Cam and Javier. DeAnvia said operating the beverage cart is fun because she likes to see some of her favorite teachers from past years.

Plus, she said, “I love the clothes you get to wear.”

Bridie Bereza
Bridie Bereza hails from Lansing and has worked in the Grand Rapids area as a reporter, freelance writer, and communicator since graduating from Aquinas College in 2003. She feels privileged to cover West Michigan's public schools and hopes to shed a little light on the amazing things happening there through her reporting. Read Bridie's full bio.

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