Coffee Shop Run by Special Needs Students in Oelwein

OELWEIN, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- For students in a special education class, sometimes real life experience is hard to get in a classroom setting. And at Oelwein High School, that’s the idea behind Big Dog’s Coffee Shop.

Oelwein student Ben Klingman is in the special education class. He rings up a customer at Big Dog's Coffee Shop. Students and instructors of that class run the shop and just opened a location for the general public on Monday.

It’s a coffee shop run by about a dozen students from that class, their instructors and volunteers, and it’s teaching those students real life lessons they can use once they leave class.

Since opening to just faculty, staff and other students in January, Big Dog’s has been a success with a steady-stream of in-school customers most mornings.

Tiffany Moses, a senior at Oelwein, was quick to point out one thing she’s learned working at the coffee shop.

“Patience,” Moses said.

After early success with a “school-only” business, the students and instructors decided to branch out an open a shop to the public. They went to sponsors to get funding for new equipment.

On Monday, Big Dog’s opened a second location at the high school that is now open to the public.

It’s in the concessions area by the high school gym and members of the public can use a special entrance there without having to go through normal school security. The coffee shop is open 7:40 a.m. until 8:20 a.m. on days that school is in session. Right now, the shop serves only coffee and other drinks like smoothies but there is talk of possibly adding some food items in the future.

Ben Klingman is another student who works the coffee shop either waiting on customers or fixing the drinks.

When asked what he liked about it, Klingman replied “I get to meet my friends and the nice people here.”

Kristi Druvenga, a school instructional coach, said the coffee shop business is actually a part of the curriculum for the special education students at Oelwein High School.

That’s because they’re learning how to be accountable at a business, how to deal with the public and how to handle money in the cash-only business. If the expansion to serving the public works out, she can see another long term idea taking shape—taking the plan out into the community.

“We would love to work with a community business in town to get a real life coffee shop open that is run by adults with special needs so these students, when they leave school, can transition to that job,” she said.

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