Once a week, the halls of Marshall Elementary School are filled with the delicious scent of coffee and bright smiles by the students who serve it.
Sarah Johnes’ special education class offers the best coffee delivery service in the school. The delivery service, known as Happy Bean Coffee, allows the students to practice life and social skills they will need for the future.
“We started last year with just coffee and hot chocolate and slowly expanded,” Johnes said. “We offered a couple of treats at first, but then people started requesting items, so we try to do something different each month. A lot of the supplies and equipment were donated so that factors in, too.”
The Happy Bean Coffee cart typically offers coffee, tea and a specialty drink, like an iced vanilla latte with whipped cream, caramel and cinnamon. Pastries like donuts, muffins, and Danishes also are available. Each week, Marshall staff email Johnes with their orders and most of the time her students ring them up with the register on the cart.
“In this classroom, we focus on a lot on academics, yes, but we also focus on a lot of life and social skills,” Johnes said. “In the future they could be managing money, working in a restaurant, so we focus on those skills. We make sure they are staying safe and clean, we focus a lot on washing hands, we count the money we put in the register. One of the students would wander off in the beginning, but now [the student] knows to stay close and keep a hand on the cart. The student’s social skills have improved, they now feel comfortable speaking to people, and we try to get them to say, ‘have a happy bean day’ when we deliver an order.”
Johnes has been teaching at Marshall Elementary for two years. When she first arrived, she was excited to see her vision of starting a coffee cart with her students come to life. She doesn’t run the class alone, her team of educational aides are also a huge part of the success with the cart.
“Everyone has been super supportive of us, the staff encourages us to come in and say hi, and the classes are excited to see them,” Johnes said. “It’s a really great program, it’s super easy to implement in any classroom, and it really doesn’t take a lot of time or effort to make it work.”
The money made each week mostly goes back into buying supplies for the cart, but Johnes tries to set some aside for the students to enjoy in some way.
“We tend to break even, we use the money to buy stuff for the cart,” Johnes said. “Last year we had a little left over that we used to buy them some things for the summer. This year, I’m trying a new thing where I save a dollar each week for each of the kids, like a paycheck, so that at the end of the year we can go to the store and they can use their money.”
Already, Johnes has seen a big impact in how her students interact with others, and how the rest of the school interacts with them. In the morning before the cart makes deliveries, Johnes’ student make their coffee announcement over the PA system.
“We say ‘good morning beautiful people’ on the speaker,’ and ‘have a happy bean day’” student-barista Damani Walker said. “Happy Bean makes people happy, because it tastes good and they like our smiles when we deliver.”
The cart has also been a learning opportunity for other Marshall students and staff.
“It helps incorporate them with general education,” Johnes said.
“A lot of the time, I think people are hesitant to interact with them for fear they will do something wrong or they don’t know what to say, but they really are just like any other kid. We have to learn to adapt, and these students do a great job of adapting and learning how to navigate in the world. Doing this, it helps show our kids and everyone else that they aren’t different, and they are able to do things like other kids.”
Just with the once a week coffee cart experience, the coffee cart has become more than just a life skills activity.
“People look forward to it, they love when we come around, and if we miss a week then they are sad,” Johnes said. “The kids love it, they love going out and delivering and making the coffee. After we are done, they get a treat, and they love that part. They love to help. It’s been really good for them. If you come up to them and give them a high five, it sometimes makes their whole entire week.”
Another Happy Bean student-barista Rhylan Magee, enjoys the opportunity to work with his friends and classmates.
“We like to make people happy, we like to work together, we are best friends,” Magee said. “We deliver the coffee and it’s fun.”
Johnes is thankful to the Marshall staff and students for being so supportive of Happy Bean.
“I’m very grateful that we are allowed to do this,” she said. “The staff and our principal are super supportive, it has improved our students lives, everything we do is because we know they can do it, we have a really great group of students this year, and it’s been a great experience for them.”