Caledonia — On a Monday morning, Skilar Placer arrives at Caledonia High School before classes start to eat breakfast. By 7:20 a.m. he is in The Cali Grind coffee shop, housed in the high school, where he brews up enough coffee to fill two large carafes.
“We load the coffee containers onto carts and deliver them to the north and south campus,” he explains. “Teachers and students can get a cup of coffee for a suggested donation of $2.”
Back at the shop, Emily Hughes fills up the sinks with water to clean the dishes and equipment for the day. Next, she sets up the cash register before the first class visits.
CHS teachers can sign up on a calendar for their class to visit the coffee shop, where they are served by Skilar, Emily and their classmates.
The Cali Grind team is part of the two-year Duncan Lake Transitions program, and working in the coffee shop is just one of their many jobs and learning opportunities.
Emily says her favorite part of her job is getting to talk to those who come through the shop. After every transaction, she tells customers, “Have a good day.”
Skills for Employment
Formerly The Daily Grind Coffee Shop at Duncan Lake Middle School, The Cali Grind is a student-run effort at Caledonia High School that opens its doors to students and staff during the school day.
Transitions program teacher Adam Chamberlin oversees his students as they take drink orders, prep the ingredients, steam the milk and press the coffee in their espresso machine.
“This job provides our students with a supported environment where they can practice their customer service skills, build their confidence, and develop connections with those around them. The money staff and students spend goes back into the program to buy supplies and equipment.
Chamberlin has taught in the program since 2017, but he says it has existed in some form in the district for more than 20 years.
Suzanne Moomey, a Transition program aide, worked with students when the coffee shop was located at Duncan Lake.
“COVID shut us down, and then last year Adam moved to the high school and worked to integrate the program here,” she said.
Chamberlin added: “Working in the coffee shop builds the understanding of a work and life balance.”
The program also partners with community organizations and businesses like Caledonia Ace Hardware, Duke’s Doggie Salon, Creative Dining Services at Davenport University, and Mackenzie’s Animal Sanctuary to teach necessary communication and time management skills.
“To want to work is a big thing, and to be employed is the goal,” Moomey said. “It’s such a beautiful thing to see they all have their own gifts, and then see the opportunities they find out there.”
To make the coffee shop experience as authentic as possible for the staff and customers, Transitions students received barista training from Schuil Coffee, which included several latte recipes and tips for making the perfect drink.
Tips like “You should steam oat milk at a lower temperature because it burns easier,” Dakota Parriott explained.
Since their training, Skilar said he has watched videos about making latte foam art, because he wants to learn how to do it in the drinks he makes.
From customer service role-playing scenarios, Nadine Bochantin said she learned how her actions make other people feel.
“We don’t want it to be like school, so we get creative,” Chamberlin said.
He added: “It’s exciting when our students get jobs. Their self-confidence soars and it is an amazing feeling for everyone in the program.”
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