New program sparks inclusivity, prepares students for employment

Jenna Hammond, Amiya Johnson, Avery Haselden, and Christian Hiltbrunner

Senior+Bailey+Young+decorates+bags+for+T-Bird+Cafe+deliveries.

Brooke Riley

Senior Bailey Young decorates bags for T-Bird Cafe deliveries.

Brooke Riley , Editor-In-Chief

Walking into the not so ordinary classroom of 156, candy bars, snacks, Keurig coffee machines and green uniforms are aligned and ready for the work day. Decorated bags begin to fill with teacher’s orders and are stacked on a cart ready to be delivered.

Special Education teacher Renee Proksel started a program called the T-Bird Cafe where students run the program like a real business. From the cafe, these students learn skills that they can carry into their employment after high school.

“Basically I saw a need from the students I work with in the area of employability and transferable work skills,” Proksel said. “I thought it was a great way also to promote inclusivity as well as ability awareness for all students and to allow students with disabilities to interact in many capacities with staff and peers.”

The T-Bird Cafe received a grant from the Walmart Community Cares Program for $1,000. Proksel used this money to start her new program and buy products and uniforms for the students. The program was finally able to open up to Bellevue West staff on Oct. 24.

The students have a routine they follow before preparing their deliveries.

“We wash our hands, we put our uniforms on, we clock in on these time cards and then we get the orders ready, put them on the cart and go deliver them,” senior Caitlynn Rugg said.

Proksel described the cafe as being “awesome” and “overwhelmingly wonderful.” All the students were involved in the planning process which included cost analysis, buying products, figuring out necessary supplies and money managing. Outside of the business realm, the students also pack and deliver orders to the teachers.

“They have decorated sacks for the delivery of our items so they stock them, we get everything on the cart and then they go around and they present orders to the staff members,” Proksel said.

Just as any other job would, the students are paid in T-Bird Cafe cash which they can spend on snacks at the end of every week. The amount of cash is determined by the amount of hours worked. They also have the opportunity to promote to a manager position and earn more cash.

Rugg said she liked earning T-Bird Cafe cash because she can spend it on treats like candy and raspberry tea. She said she also likes working with her friends. Senior Chris Watkins said he likes seeing all their teachers during delivery.

In just the past couple weeks, Proksel said she has seen students shine by working in the T-Bird Cafe. She has seen them handling the responsibility well while also enjoying the tasks at hand. From this experience, students can put the cafe on their resume and refer to it when applying for jobs outside of school.

Both Rugg and Watkins agreed the cafe has helped them gain skill they can use in their future jobs.

To Proksel, the program has a bright future ahead. She is working on expanding the menu items as well as providing the workers with more machines for products such as smoothies.

“I hope our T-Bird Cafe is a long sustained program,” Proksel said. “My goal this year is to work out all the kinks and then have it be a program that will run and operate for future years to come.”

As this program continues to grow and raise more money, Proksel wants to take her students on job outings to see how other places run their businesses and what opportunities they have after high school.  

With all her big plans in mind, Proksel said she is thankful for the staff support of her new program and is eager for what the future of the T-Bird cafe brings.

“I’m just really excited about the opportunity for everyone to see a person’s abilities rather than disabilities and that students are capable and that they can bring so much joy through the little things,” Proksel said.