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Lew-Port students get a taste for life outside class Special needs class serves up coffee to patrons in the Lewiston Library

It's Monday. A school day. But Elliot J. Shirback and Joshua W. Smith are miles away from Lewiston-Porter High School making coffee and selling it along with tea, fruit juice, cookies and pastries.

They aren't playing hooky.

These special education students are at the Lewiston Public Library running a business called Chapters Coffee Cafe along with four of their classmates, getting a hands-on taste of living and working in the real world.

Their teacher, Ashli Dreher, said the students are participants of the school's life skills program she's been running for the past four years.

The community is the classroom for her students, who are learning the things they'll find most useful in holding a job, earning a living, dealing with people, and knowing how to interact appropriately in the workplace with customers and management.

To help pick up these skills, Dreher said her students are involved in many other out-of-the-classroom activities, too.

"They make pizzas and serve food to college students on Wednesdays at Niagara University's Clet Hall," she said. "They also work at Tim Hortons, Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara, and the Lewiston Senior Center."

At the library, Elliot, 18, made Maxwell House coffee last week and handed out menus to potential customers.

"We're here every Monday from 10 a.m. to 12 o'clock," he said. "I'm handing out brochures to the customers this week so they know how much things cost."

Elliot worried a little about making the coffee. "I don't want to get burned" by the scalding hot water, he said.

He did fine, with a little help from Laurie Munno, the teaching aide who works with his group.

Meanwhile Joshua tended to Ann Siejka, a library clerk, who has come to depend on Chapters to provide her with coffee on Mondays. She gave Smith $2 for the $1.25 cup of joe and Josh meticulously rang up the sale on Chapters' cash register and counted her 75 cents in change.

"I like the cash register and keeping track of the money," Joshua said.

Dreher is working with Joshua so he catches onto the register and gets used to making correct change.

Before Chapters opened for business, another classmate, Ryan S. Comerford, 16, moved quickly to set up food displays.

"We sell coffee, doughnut holes, cookies, juice boxes. . . . I set things up. I'm the manager," said Comerford. "I like to organize things. I like doing this a lot better than school because you don't have to do any school work.

"It's better because you're learning how to do things. You're setting things up and adding up the money and taking care of it. Your learning how to run a business. You're using math skills and thinking."

Three other students -- Nicole M. Sobieniak, 16; Jenny Martin, 15; and Andrea Sirianni, 18 -- also helped out last week before they had to take off on a school bus to work another project.

Chapters staff is appreciated at the library.

Drinking her coffee, Siejka said, "We enjoy having them here. They're good to us. They are wonderful. So is their coffee."

Library Executive Director Ronald W. Shaw has similar feelings.

"It's pretty good [coffee]," Shaw said, "and I kind of prefer those cookies with the icing on top."

Tony Montibello, a regular customer who loves coffee, has helped the students out by showing them how much coffee they need to put in the coffeemaker to maximize the flavor.

At school, the students have a classroom with a functional kitchen, where they learn how to cook and use recipes, wash dishes, clean, and wash and dry clothing along with a multiplicity of other skills everyone needs to care for themselves.

The coffee cafe, at the library's entrance, helps the students put into practice what they learn in the classroom, Dreher said.

With help of grants from the Orleans-Niagara Teachers Center -- more than $8,000 during the past four years -- "we've been able to purchase all kinds of things," she said, "like a refrigerator, stove, washer and dryer for our classroom to help students develop life skills.

"We've also been able to purchase things to assist them in having different vocational opportunities," she said. "It allowed us to buy the coffee maker this year so we could open up the coffee cafe [at the library's entrance]. It also provides us with the money to purchase the supplies we need to make coffee and provide pastries.

"The wonderful thing about this is that our students are able to access the community and become part of it by meeting community members," Dreher said. "It's integrating and including them within their own school community so people get to know them, and that opens doors for them to perspective employers."

e-mail: pwestmoore@buffnews.com

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