When Annika Frascht is working at Mid-Prairie’s Common Ground Coffee Shop she’s doing tasks like working the register and serving coffee, though she herself prefers drinking hot chocolate. She’s one of about 10 special education students working at the school’s new cafe.
Because of a $95,000 grant from the Washington County Riverboat Foundation, Mid-Prairie was able to remodel their library and create Common Ground. According to the school’s Special Education Director Amy Shalla the plan for the money from the beginning had been to create a place special education students could work.
“Our intention was to have this coffee shop so the kids could learn work skills and real-life situations in a structured and supportive environment before taking it into the workforce,” Shalla said. “We want all our kids, especially our special ed kids, to have the skills they need to succeed as adults as well.”
Students like Frascht have already been able to get some experience working in January, during a series of test runs the shop has had before an official opening.
Though other students pleasantly greeted and waved to Frascht when she stood behind the counter, she has interest beyond the coffee shop. According to her teacher, Tracey Zahradnek, Frascht enjoys working with animals and has been taking care of the school guinea pig since sixth grade.
Frascht herself is unsure exactly what job she wants after high school, but Shalla thinks working at the coffee shop will give her and other students the tools to pursue their ambition.
“I hope that it will help (students) develop work ethic and some communication skills,” Shalla said. “There are those unwritten rules of interaction that we all know but they might not easily pick up on.”
As of now, students will be able to work at Common Ground until 21, though Shalla is looking into options they might be able to offer them beyond that age. There are roughly a dozen tasks for students to work on around the shop including dishes, working the cash register and serving coffee.
Also part of the renovations were changes to the rest of the library. New floors and furniture have been added to create a more open space.
“It’s set up so that more groups of people could come in and work in a more casual environment,” Shalla said.
Originally, the coffee shop was supposed to open in late January, but a series of snow days delayed the official opening to Feb. 11. Once open, Common Ground will be available for students in the morning and then periodically throughout the day depending on requests.
Money made from Common Ground will go back into the coffee shop and create other learning opportunities for special education students.