Story: Sparkly Stellafly
Photos: Charley Hoffman
“I will learn from them every single day.”
Those are the words of Martha Knoll-Loader, teacher at Creston High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Sparkly Stellafly and The Intern visited her classroom to check out the new coffee shop that just opened up called “What’s Brewing.” For one dollar (75 cents if you have your own cup), you can have what has been called the “best coffee in the school.”
Not only do you get great coffee (or tea if you wish—hot or iced), but you will be served by some pretty amazing students. They serve it to you promptly and with a smile, because they truly appreciate every cent they make.
What’s Brewing is run by a classroom of students who each fall somewhere on the autism spectrum. This is a project that is part fundraiser, part real-life experience that will teach these kids valuable skills for their future.
The class, comprised of 12 students ages 15-19, is raising money to fix up a greenhouse that has been part of the building for years but has not been used in a long time. It needs a lot of work. Knoll-Loader applied for a grant last year on a whim, and they were thinking of starting an outdoor garden. This was before they even knew that the greenhouse existed. They received the grant from Lowe’s and decided to begin raising money to make the greenhouse functional again. Their goal is to raise $5,000 and to have the greenhouse fixed up before the snow comes.
Several real-world lessons are being learned each week, lessons that they will take with them and could use in find a job. There is a schedule posted for each student to find out when they work, a script is posted on the wall to help them make sure they remember how to greet each customer, pour the coffee, take the money, and make change when necessary. When Ms. Knoll-Loader was leading the discussion in class today, she reinforced that they can make a real paycheck and told them that wherever they work, they need to make minimum wage.
Watching the excitement on these kids’ faces, the energy in the room from their teachers, and the sheer volume of pride they had when someone came to buy coffee was incredibly inspiring. Knoll-Loader has been teaching at Creston for 2 years, and she loves what she is doing because she believes, “everybody has a place in society.”