News

Special brew comes from students

By MIKE HALLIDAY

The Mirror

A little something extra happens Fridays at Adelaide Elementary School.

After classes start, the students in Marianne Johnson's class put on their aprons and get to work making lattes and mochas for teachers and staff in the building.

Johnson teaches a special-education class for third, fourth and fifth-graders. This is her 11th year teaching at Adelaide. Seven of her nine students this year make and deliver the beverages around campus every Friday. The "business" even has a name: Johnson's Java.

For her students, the Friday event is a way to reinforce skills being taught to them. They get to work on their math skills, organization, interacting with other people, counting money (this isn't free, folks) and how to work safely.

Orders are taken Thursday night. People leave their requests in a basket. There's a 25-cent discount if they leave their own cup for the students to fill.

Part of the curriculum in Johnson's class is learning skills that are functional and can help students find jobs outside of school and so they can take care of themselves at home. Many of her students have Downs Syndrome, autism, profound deafness or other disabilities.

The class also allows the special-education students and traditional students to interact.

The idea was not her own, Johnson said. An occupational therapist working with her suggested it as a way to raise some money for the classroom –– Johnson spends about $100 a month on groceries for its kitchen –– and the students to practice some of their skills.

The therapist had a latte machine at home and made aprons and buttons for the students to wear while they deliver the caffeinated beverages. A staff member made the orders.

But when the therapist found another job and took the latte machine with him, Johnson's Java hit a setback. A replacement machine didn't have enough steam –– literally –– to keep up with demand. It appeared the aprons might have to be hung up for good.

Then Kay Morris-Johnson found a solution.

Morris-Johnson was a paraeducator substitute in Johnson's class (they aren't related) who enjoyed helping the students and looked forward to Friday's treat. "I usually make sure I have my $1.75 in my pocket on Friday," she said.

She started making some telephone calls around town to find a latte machine. Finding stuff is a talent, Morris-Johnson admits, and she has recently turned it into a job at a non-profit organization.

Plus, she was motivated in this instance by the students.

"I love that classroom," she said.

She called manufacturers of latte machines, but buying a new machine was too costly. She also contacted several coffee shops in town, asking if they had a machine for donation. Most did not, but were supportive of her effort, and one company is considering donating coffee for a year to the classroom.

Eventually, the predicament was learned by James Ratajski, manager of the Starbucks store at The Commons at Federal Way (formerly SeaTac Mall). He had a demonstration latte machine to show customers how to operate their coffee brewers at home. Essentially new, it was gathering dust, and Ratajski was willing to let the class have it.

"I thought it would be a great opportunity," he said.

The demonstration machine, while designed for home use, had more guts than the first replacement and could make several cups of flavored java heaven in a short time. Now its black and chrome chassis sits in Johnson's room.

Johnson's Java is back in business.

Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-5565, mhalliday@fedwaymirror.com

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