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King High's 'Brewing Buddies' brew up exceptional coffee

Orzugal Tatashadze, left, hands Carrie Elswick a cup of coffee. Orzugal is one of several exceptional students who run King High School’s Brewing Buddies coffee shop.
Orzugal Tatashadze, left, hands Carrie Elswick a cup of coffee. Orzugal is one of several exceptional students who run King High School’s Brewing Buddies coffee shop.
Published Aug. 31, 2017

TAMPA — Students and teachers at King High School hankering for a cup of java no longer have to wait until the end of the day to satisfy their craving.

They can get a cup of brew in between classes.

Brewing Buddies, a student-operated coffee shop, opened last week on the campus, selling both hot and cold beverages along with a few snacks.

And business is brisk. On a recent morning, 14 orders were waiting for delivery to teachers. Another 10 were sold at a mobile stand set up in the school vestibule. First week profits totaled $140.

What makes this venture special isn't the brew itself but who's doing the brewing.

Brewing Buddies is part-enterprise, part-training program for King's exceptional student population.

Modeled after a similar program at Plant High School, the goal is to teach students with intellectual disabilities skills they'll need to be employable and ultimately, get a job, said exceptional student education specialist Georgie Collins.

"They have a disability but they have an ability to work and be valued just like everyone else," she said.

Yuri Higgins, King's assistant principal, concurred.

"They do a great job," he said. "We show them they can be successful just like everyone else."

Every penny from sales goes back to pay for field trips, job training uniforms, and other expenses that are out of reach for students, Collins said.

Exceptional students at King range from non-verbal to highly functioning autistic. But no matter their ability, all participate.

Like any other job, students must show up on time and be prepared for work. With help from Collins and Nasia Clarke-Williams, who directs King's exceptional student department, students are guided through the process of operating a business including adhering to cleanliness, giving attention to detail and providing great customer service.

After washing their hands and putting on an apron, students are instructed to don latex gloves. Students next prepare the coffee, a task that always is overseen by Collins, Clarke-Williams or a teaching assistant.

Then, it's time to fill orders and make deliveries.

Students are cautioned to be careful to get the orders right the first time. Sometimes, there are slip ups, like when a student mixed coffee and sweet tea.

Or the time Orzugal Tatashadze, 18, accidentally took a sip of a customer's coffee.

"Mistakes happen and we all learn from our mistakes," she said.

One error, however, has not deterred Orzugal from enjoying her barista experience.

"It's giving me job experience," she said.

One of the biggest bonuses of the coffee shop is that it allows exceptional students to interact daily with their peers in a way they may not otherwise, Clarke-Williams said.

Relationships are budding and students are bonding, she said.

The coffee shop is a hit with sophomore Jordan Armstrong, 15, who buys a cup with French Vanilla and Hazelnut flavors every day.

"I like it because it shows that kids who are in special education can do things … that other people can do," she said.

Dekerria Keno, concurred.

"They make some good coffee," she said.

Contact Kenya Woodard at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

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