New class gets BSHS students ‘outside the box’
It’s a quiet Tuesday morning in The Brave Cave as far as student customers go.
But while no one is waiting in line to be served a coffee, cold beverage or snack in Bonner Springs High School’s new coffee shop and store, there’s still lots to be done. There’s cleaning and stocking and taking inventory. When business teacher Bryce McFarland asks BSHS senior Philip Holcomb to count the number of popcorn packages that are left, Holcomb isn’t just willing to do it. He is “indubitably” so, as he said to much good-natured laughter from everyone within earshot.
Holcomb’s enthusiasm to do whatever is asked of him stems from getting the chance to work with other students and to learn new job skills — skills that may not come as easily to him as other students. Holcomb is one of four special education students taking part in a new class at BSHS this year: applied business development. The class meets during third period, from 9:37 a.m. to 10:26 a.m., Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday in the coffee shop. During the class, students get actual experience working in and operating a business. The 13 students taking the class do everything from making and serving the coffee to re-stocking the shelves and ordering new product. Some of the students are even helping with painting the walls of The Brave Cave, which opened in the last quarter of last school year, and building new countertops, McFarland said. He teaches the class in collaboration with Jim Mitchell, who is a special education teacher at BSHS.
The four special education students in the class, who have disabilities ranging from autism to learning disabilities, mostly work behind the coffee counter with the assistance of fellow students Nick Trischler and Kyle Turner, both of whom are seniors. Mitchell said there was some hesitancy from all the students when the class first started, but he has watched a real closeness develop between the special education and nonspecial education students. He says he’s also seen significant growth in both the special education students’ skills and their confidence in being able to demonstrate those skills.
“They do a real good job and they’re learning and the kids work with them great. They help them with the cash register and kind of walk them through and (the special education students are) getting more comfortable as they go on and are able to do a lot of things without being told what to do,” Mitchell said. “It’s a real good real world experience for them. It will help them with job skills. Hopefully, they’ll be able to take some of this and move on and get a job and do well at that job.”
For the students’ part, they say learning how to get a job and do it well wasn’t necessarily their main motivation for enrolling in the class. Erin Walters, a special education student in her sophomore year at BSHS, says she simply thought it would be fun.
“It seemed fun because you get to do stuff,” she said. “Give people what they want.”
The other special education students in the class are Cody Crider, sophomore, and Sean Holley, who graduated last school year but is in the district’s 18-21 Program. The transitional program, which was started this school year at the instigation of Sean Holley’s mother, Leia Holley, allows recent special education graduates to stay in the school system until they are 21. During that time, they are provided with a more specific course of study in an effort to make them better able to transition into life after high school.
Still, as more skills are developed in the applied business development class, the possibility of getting a job after high school is becoming more of a reality to the special education students. The class isn’t halfway over yet, but with the skills he’s learned already, Crider said he might be pretty busy after he graduates.
“I could work at a restaurant or a movie theater,” he said. “Like, maybe both, or all of it.”
No matter what happens down the road, however, it’s clear the special education students are having an impact on their classmates now. Nick Trischler said he enjoys the energy and the sense of humor and fun his special classmates bring to every class in The Brave Cave.
“Yeah, it’s a lot more happy and stuff,” he said, adding that if his special education classmates weren’t in the class, “it would be kind of boring and dull.”
He said helping them on a daily basis has inspired him to want to become a teacher.
“It’s good to actually have them, like, learning different ways, so that they can … have a base for after high school,” Trischler said.
Given the success of the class thus far, Mitchell said he hopes it continues to be offered in the coming school years and that more special education students would want to take part in it. He says classes like this, that offer special education students some real world application, help to develop a level of confidence and independence that’s not so easy to develop in the traditional classroom setting. It’s a matter of allowing them to think, and work, outside the box.
“It gives them some skills that they may not have gotten if they were just in a regular class. It also kind of brings them out of their box, ‘cause they’re meeting all the different people and they’re working with different people and it teaches them to kind of rely on what they know and what they can do,” Mitchell said. “… It’s good to show that they can kind of break the stereotype; that they can do a job and do it well and understand how the job works. And this is just a way to kind of teach them and maybe give them that confidence.”