Neighbor stories

Students with Autism create coffee club to learn new skills and serve community

Written by Nick Brinkerhoff

Chryztii G., an elementary school teacher at Aurora Public Schools in Colorado, strives to spread the message of respect and elevate the talents of her students every day through her work in the school’s new Autism program. The Autism program has ten students, and Chryztii works alongside two other teachers to create and teach curriculum in a way that’s best suited for each students’ learning style. They also prioritize making sure their students integrate with the other students in the school as a way to teach social skills and independence. One way students in the Aurora Public Schools Autism program do this is through a coffee club, where students manage money transactions, engage with customers, and handle set up and clean up as a way to improve math skills, directional and spatial abilities, and customer service skills. Overall, it’s a great opportunity for the students in the Autism program to get more involved with the whole school.

At first it was just an idea, but with the help of Nextdoor, the coffee club was able to delight customers in a matter of weeks. Chryztii reached out to neighbors on Nextdoor to see if anyone had items they would be willing to donate to the club. Almost instantly, Chryztii was overwhelmed with the generosity of her community. One family donated a brand new Keurig machine, and others donated mugs, towels, Keurig coffee pods, and dish soap. Within a few days, Chryztii and her colleagues were able to fully stock and supply the coffee club and begin trial runs.

How does the coffee club work? Every Thursday, students in the program deliver coffee order forms to classrooms and offices with a coffee cup icon on their door. On Friday mornings, a group of students collect the order forms and the money which is in a Ziploc bag on the door. They bring these forms back to the sensory room where the process of brewing begins. Students then follow picture-based instructions that show how to prepare the perfect cup of joe with the Keurig machine. Once all the coffees are brewed and ready, students deliver them to their customers. When customers are finished with the coffee at the end of the day, there are bins where the dirty mugs are placed so that the students on the clean up crew can collect and hand wash them in the kitchen afterwards. At first, the coffee club was only taking orders from a few classrooms, but after much success, they now serve the whole school thanks to the generosity of neighbors.

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A photo shared by Chryztii of the coffee club preparing orders

When we spoke with Chryztii, she shared that when it comes to working with students with Autism, it is important to realize that they are students before a diagnosis. Using people-first language (i.e. saying they are a student with Autism rather than an Autistic student) can really help others relate to them and find commonalities.

She also shared that students with Autism range in their abilities– the way they think and problem-solve can vary. Some students with Autism are highly-skilled and need little assistance, while others have more severe challenges and need additional support. Some of Chryztii’s students use a device called an Augmented Alternative Communication Device, or AAC, which is through a program on an iPad. “While it is easier to say these students are non-verbal, they clearly have a lot to say, it just doesn’t always come out from their mouth. So we have to listen to how they use their device instead,” Chryztii said.

With April recognized as World Autism Month, it serves as an important reminder to recognize our neighbors with Autism, treat them with respect, and appreciate the talents and skills they bring to our communities. Thank you to Chryztii and her neighbors in Aurora for their wonderful work in helping students in their community learn important life skills through the coffee club!

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