Café in school provides training

Panther Café teaches students in the Special Education program valuable soft skills.


Imogen Sharif '23

AT YOUR SERVICE • Students serve English teacher Mrs. Kate Evans at the walk-up Panther Cafe on the third floor during fourth block on Monday, Dec. 12. Teachers can purchase items at the cafe in-person or order delivery to classrooms.

Imogen Sharif '23, Haven Arts Editor

For the past nine years, the Special Education program has been running the Panther Café,  gaining crucial skills for future opportunities and employment. Started by Special Education Teacher Mrs. Sarah Holt, the cafe operates out of the third floor.

Students with disabilities work on soft skills essential for when they graduate, including technical skills, handling money, customer service, and time management. 

“The purpose of it is that my students are gaining vocational skills, skills that they can transfer to having meaningful employment in the future,” Holt said.

The experience of working is something many students don’t get while in high school, and for students in the Special Education program, it’s even more difficult. The Panther Café provides that experience within the halls of the school.

“I think that without the training that we’re kind of providing for them here, they may not be able to get a job or may not be as successful in a job, because they don’t have the practice of those soft skills,” Holt said.

Various goods are sold at the Panther Café, all of which the students either make or distribute. Hot or iced coffee, hot chocolate, and sweet treats are all on the menu for a few days each week.

“We used to use a Keurig, but this year we actually started brewing coffee and adding flavors,” Holt said. “We started making iced coffee and we also sell sodas and seltzers and things like that.”

The program now uses room 319 as a space for the Café. The students set up during C lunch and sell during fourth block. Currently only teachers can make purchases. According to Holt, the cafe used to sell to students and may revisit student sales in the future.

“There was this rule a few years ago about ‘smart snacks,’” Holt said. “Well, apparently, I think that’s gone, so when the next semester starts, what we would like to do is have teachers sign up their class one day so we aren’t bombarded and overwhelmed.”

Selling to students was incredibly beneficial for the students working, as being able to interact with their neurotypical peers leads to more valuable social skills, according to Holt. 

“This is giving the students who participate in it really valuable experience that’s going to help them out through their lives,” Holt said. “So being a patron at the cafe is not just something where you’re getting a soda or a candy… it’s building skills, and its really helpful for the kids.”