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A Cup of Warmth

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An innovative and charming new program at Markham Woods Middle School is delivering kindness and opportunity, one cup at a time

Thanks to a group of student-government leaders and special-needs students at Markham Woods Middle School, teachers and staff no longer have to drive out of their way to make that extra stop for a cup of coffee in the morning. They now have their own personal coffee shop right on campus, where they can place orders online and have a fresh, warm beverage delivered right to their desk.

Earlier this year, student government representatives Esme Farrow, Gianna Guerrero, Evan Mennechey-Wilson, Giovanni Ciaccio, and Aiden Sless decided to identify a need on campus and begin a service project to address it. The kids stumbled on a video about a coffee shop that gave adults with disabilities a place to work, learn valuable skills, and earn an independent living. These five students were inspired to implement a similar idea on their own campus to help their special-needs classmates. That’s how the Warm Coffee, Warm Hearts Coffee Shop was born. The shop allows special-needs students to work together with their peers and learn from one another.

Markham Woods faculty and staff use a special online ordering system to order drinks from a student-created menu. Students deliver those orders on Mondays and Fridays during second period, and all the money collected goes to help fund the school’s program for students with autism spectrum disorder.

The five student government representatives run the shop together with four special-needs classmates. The experience helps Esme, Gianna, Evan, Giovanni, and Aiden develop leadership and mentoring skills. For the special-needs students, they gain invaluable self-confidence and vocational experience. Warm Coffee, Warm Hearts isn’t just a clever name. The entire project has lifted the spirits of everyone on campus.
Donald Fields, a student government facilitator and science teacher at Markham Woods Middle, says he hopes the shop gives his students a better understanding of what children, teens, and adults with disabilities can contribute to the community and the world.

“Empathy is such a difficult thing to teach,” Donald says, “and this experience is a great way for some of our outstanding leaders to grow in it.” 
Donald also hopes that the exceptional-education students working in the program will develop more than just career-readiness skills. 

“I want them to feel confident that they can contribute to the school community and feel more included in it,” he says. 

Exceptional Student Education (ESE) teacher Jennifer Byrd says the coffee shop project has given students in her class a wonderful opportunity to have social interactions with peers they wouldn’t normally enjoy. 

“It has taught them work skills they can take into the real world and apply to life in the future,” says Jennifer. “Also, I think their peers are able to see that people with disabilities make wonderful friends and future employees who can make positive contributions to a business when given the chance.” 

Student government at Markham Woods Middle is an elective class offered to all grade levels on campus. Students apply each year for the opportunity to participate, and they meet during second period. The club is responsible for activities and events including the school’s Fall Social, Winter Food Drive, Valentine’s Dance, Eighth Grade Dance, and a number of other service projects around campus. 

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