LOJHS students learn about life and academics through coffee business

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP PHOTOS: JAIME VALDEZ - Eighth-grader Irvin Herrera serves coffee cart customer and Lake Oswego Junior High teacher Ian Reeves while another student looks on.Sixth-grader Keaton Jones, wearing a green Starbucks apron, presented to Eileen Christopher a sweet treat on a white paper napkin while she stood by her desk in the main office of Lake Oswego Junior High School on a recent November morning.

“Coffee cake is served,” Keaton declared with a dramatic flourish of his right hand. “Enjoy.”

“Thank you very much,” said Christopher, school attendance secretary and bookkeeper.

The young man turned to a group of school employees standing behind the front counter, and he took another order: “Coffee cake coming right up, ma’am,” he called out to a staffer, and he strode toward a cart waiting in the hallway. The cart that day carried a couple of large thermoses with pump dispensers, one filled with coffee and one with hot water. Cookies, Diet Cokes and more coffee cake also were among the cart’s PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP PHOTOS: JAIME VALDEZ - Lake Oswego Junior High sixth-grader Keaton Jones, left, and eighth-grader Irvin Herrera make their rounds on coffee cart day Nov. 20.

After some training in the first weeks of school, students in teacher Jamie Chapman’s Essential Life Skills class operate a coffee cart every Wednesday, starting this year in mid-November. Chapman’s students have disabilities, and she teaches them functional, academic and interpersonal skills such as how to bake, make coffee, count change, buy food at the grocery store, interact with customers and learn to read new words.

“All my kids can read the word coffee,” Chapman said.

There are nine coffee cart kids, including eighth-grader Irvin Herrera who collected change while Keaton served customers on Nov. 20, the coffee cart’s second week in business this fall.

Chapman showed Irvin how to make change, saying: “So, that’s a dollar fifty, so you say ‘one dollar and fifty cents.’”

He quietly repeated the words.

“This is my favorite day, coffee cart day, because I love the kids,” said Marie Shakerin, school registrar.

Students’ roles change, so they learn different skills. Later that morning, eighth-grader Emme Ek explained her role: “I’m a supervisor,” someone “who tells everybody what to do.”

Chapman said she has gotten great support for the program, which she founded four years ago. Her inspiration was her mentor at Lakeridge High, who has a coffee business. Situated in the former home ec room, the Essential Life Skills students at Lake Oswego Junior High previously baked frozen cookie dough and sold the sweets to their classmates during a school-wide break. But, the crowds and time crunch called for speed, and an adult would often have to step in, Chapman said. The slower pace of the coffee cart allows the children to learn and act more on their own.

“It’s a really warm moment in the day,” Chapman said, “to have the kids come in and give you room service, to have someone come in with a hot cup of coffee and a treat — pretty special.”

She has a budget this year for the program for the first time, which she said is exciting. The business also brings in a little cash. Coming hot in a ceramic mug, coffee is $1, and the java is either from Starbucks or Happy Cup Coffee Company of Portland. Organic creamer and raw and pasteurized honey are available.

Chapman would like a larger coffee cart and new dispensers, and the program does receive donations, she said. One woman sewed burnt orange aprons with the slogan “coffee is my cup of tea” and another woman contributed two green Starbucks aprons.

Help and support abound, yet her class must buckle down to develop the skills they need, and it’s a safe environment for them if they make mistakes, she said.

“I expect that kids will have a hard time, and I expect that we’ll be able to work through it because we’re at school,” Chapman said. “It’s not a workplace. We’re not going to fire them.”

Introducing them to the workplace world prepares them for the future — they annually visit Happy Cup, which provides employment to adults with disabilities and donates all of its profits to vocational and recreational programming for people with disabilities. Chapman said the program also fills students with confidence and a sense of pride in what they do, and they meet more people: students, employees and volunteers.

“They have more connections in the school and in the community, which, to me, mirrors what we want for our adults with disabilities — we want them to be a part of their larger community and for them to be known and for them to be connected,” Chapman said.

How to help

For more information, call the school at 503-534-2335, email Jamie Chapman at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit Lake Oswego Junior High School at 2500 Country Club Road, Lake Oswego.

Jillian Daley can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and 503-636-1281, ext. 109. Follow her on Twitter, @jilliandaley.

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