Skip to main content

Real World Experiences Provide Interaction, Acceptance for Students with Special Needs

Creating a rolling beverage and snacks store for staff sounds like a popular idea all on its own, but pair it with three eager and energetic students, and you’ve got the start of something exceptional.
South Arbor Charter Academy Special Education Teacher Amanda Lund was brainstorming ideas to help her students grasp real world uses for math, and the rolling snacks cart sounded perfect because it would involve money and counting. Then the idea came to have students interact with staff throughout the building, which would add to the social element as well. The Unique Café was almost ready for business.
“I really wanted something that was hands-on and worked with physical life skills, not just preparing for those skills,” Lund said. “I figured this could also boost morale within the staff too, because they would come alongside to support the kids. We're dealing with real money here, and the kids have the whole business piece, and are dealing with adults. It’s been a great experience for them.”
Students Rayyan Mohammad, Joseph Gamper, and Drae-Matthew Coronado were thrilled with the idea of being able to sell things to staff, but the thought of all that interaction needed some talking through.

The three students who run the cafe.
South Arbor students who run the Unique Café, from left: Rayyan Mohammad, Joseph Gamper, and Drae-Matthew Coronado.

“Every student in the school is valuable,” Lund said. “It's great that they can interact with everyone, and I think it's important for staff and students to interact. I think there are big benefits. Just being gracious and kind to each other and then also my students get to learn that social piece.”
Lund said she’s worked with her students on interacting with the staff and the importance of introducing themselves. She has them talk about the reason why they’re selling beverages and snacks, and how to start those conversations.

Student giving staff member their purchased item.
South Arbor Special Education Paraprofessional Maggie Penhorwood purchases an item from student Drae-Matthew Coronado.

“The social pieces are different for each of them,” Lund said. “One of my students, she’s so eager to engage socially, but it doesn't always work like she wants it to. This has given her the opportunity to just blossom. She finally has things to say and she's digging it.
“The kids have been able to be successful because the teachers will just wait, and they are so gracious with us, just waiting for us to go through the calculations and get their change.”

Student calculating price.
South Arbor Student Joseph Gamper calculates the price of some items.

Even though students in many grades have expressed their interest in purchasing from the Unique Café, it will remain staff-focused for now. After all, only three students make up the café staff.
“We aren't selling to students just because of the quantity; this is kind of a smaller deal. I thought it was just a safer plan just to stick with adults. The students are very interested and would very much like to participate, but we can't sell to 800 kids.”
The Unique Café will continue to sell beverages and snacks to teachers a couple times per month.
“They’re feeling so proud of this because they own it, this is their thing. School is hard for them. This environment is hard for them, and sometimes they don't have a lot of things they feel super proud of. So, if I can give that to them, that is awesome. They should feel proud of it.”
Great work creating opportunities, Mrs. Lund, and congratulations on creating a rolling café, South Arbor Students! It’s no wonder South Arbor has outperformed the local district for the past 14 years!

Check out a school near you!

About South Arbor Charter Academy
South Arbor Charter Academy is a tuition-free, public charter school in Ypsilanti, Michigan, serving students in Young 5s through eighth grade. It is part of the National Heritage Academies network, which includes more than 100 tuition-free, public charter schools serving more than 65,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade across nine states. For more information, visit

Visit South Arbor Charter Academy's blog to read more stories like this.