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Ideas and Solutions

Lone Star Coffee Club Connects Special Education Students to Entrepreneurism and Work Experience

Cindy Snyder's Lone Star Coffee Club connects special education students to entrepreneurism and work experience.

September 30, 2021

As a Teach for America Idaho corps member assigned to teach middle school special education classes, Cindy Snyder wanted to provide her students with life skills and real-world work experience.

That’s what led her to create a coffee club at Lone Star Middle School in the Nampa School District, to help give her students a taste of both entrepreneurism and working a service job.

Cindy, who moved to Idaho from her native Pennsylvania, finished her corps service in 2020, has continued to teach at Lone Star, in part because she is excited about the coffee club and what it can help her students learn. She is quick to acknowledge that the coffee club idea isn’t her invention. Schools across the country use it, and Cindy got the idea during a visit to Nampa’s Columbia High School, which runs its own coffee club.

“In high school special education extended resource rooms, teachers really start focusing on life skills,” Cindy said. “The coffee club fits into that really well, and I thought it could work really well at the middle school level, and it could be really fun for the kids.”

The concept is simple: Create a student-run business that every Monday collects orders for coffee and pastries from the school’s staff. On Wednesday, the group walks to a nearby Walmart to buy the supplies. On Thursday, they bake the pastries. On Friday morning they coffee, collect money, and distribute orders to the customers.

The Lone Star club was a big hit when Cindy and her students launched it in the fall of 2019, serving coffee, tea, sparkling water and homemade goodies on Friday mornings. “We tried to be festive with it -- pumpkin spice creamer in the fall, and peppermint creamer around Christmas. And the staff loved it,” she said. “Unfortunately we got closed down in the spring by Covid, but we will be back in September, bigger and even better.”

This past spring, TFA provided Cindy with a $1,500 grant from the Laura Moore Cunningham Foundation. She used the money to up the coffee club’s game, buying an espresso machine, large quantities of supplies, and even an apron for each student with his or her name embossed on the front.

Cindy is thinking about extending the club to two days a week, adding Mondays as well. “Teachers need their coffee on Monday mornings,” she said.

But she plans to ease into it, because after a hiatus of 18 months, most of the students in the extended resource room will be new to the coffee club. “The few students who did it before are telling the new kids ‘oh, awesome, the coffee club is coming back, this is something really cool we do here.’”

A student hands their teacher a cup of coffee.