ALBERTVILLE, Ala. — The Exceptional Aggies Café offers a variety of breakfast sandwiches, salads and wraps. The best part is that meals give special students the opportunity to learn life skills while serving each plate.
The menu includes hot dog combos such as the Depot Dog (a hot dog in a bun with condiments on the side), the Fire Hydrant Combo (a hot dog in a bun topped with nacho cheese and pickled jalapenos) or the 431 Combo (a hot dog as covered as US 431 with nacho cheese, pickles, chili, jalapeno slices, chopped onion, and sauerkraut). All combos come with a choice of fries, potato salad or pasta salad and the price ranges from $5 to $10 each.
Ham and cheese or turkey and cheese wraps are available alongside McCord salad (lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, carrots, and shredded cheese) or Sand Mountain salad (chopped ham and turkey, sliced hard-boiled egg, lettuce , cucumber, tomatoes, carrots and grated cheese). cheese).
The café also offers the dessert of the day and drinks of coffee, tea, bottled sodas or bottled water.
The cafe, housed at LifePoint Church in Albertville, is run by a rotating group of 10 outstanding Aggies from Albertville High School. The students head to the high school cafe to finish prep work and set up for the day. Each student is given tasks that are divided according to their level of ability and according to what their level of ability can handle. They serve lunch from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday through Friday before cleaning up and heading back to school to end their day.
When LifePoint burned down in 2019, the church rebuilt the area that houses the cafe with a commercial kitchen with the idea of having it run by outstanding students. The opening took two years to prepare, suffering delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The cafe gives our students a chance to transfer the skills we teach in the classroom to real-world locations, and it gives the community a chance to see our students complete tasks and work in real settings,” said AHS Special. Education. Professor Lawanda Mitchell. “Employers have the opportunity to see our students as employees and potential recruits. In addition, our students gain confidence in their abilities and therefore feel like they can get a job. »
Former special education teacher-turned-lawyer Emily Seckel said she helped start the nonprofit to enable the cafe’s creation.
“We came up with the idea of opening a cafe to give student workers the opportunity to learn life skills while having community interactions,” she said. “LifePoint Church and the Aggie Foundation, along with many parents and community members, have brought it all together. I hope you all get as much out of it as our children.
The use of the term “exceptional” originated in the later part of the 20th century as a euphemism that replaced students with disabilities being referred to as “handicapped”. Exceptional learners is the term used in the United States to refer to students with disabilities. It is the mission of the Exceptional Aggies Café to provide sustained work-
learning-based learning opportunities that teach students the skills they need to be able to work in the community. For Paula Kaylor and Mitchell, AHS special education teachers, their passion is to see students leave their program and have jobs outside of the cafe.
“It’s such a good program. It provides our students with many opportunities that they simply cannot find in a university setting. We love teaching academics, but we can see where our kids need more functional skills like reading and money. These things will help them every day as adults,” Kaylor said.
In the past, students have worked with local industries not only to develop their skills, but also to meet the needs of a business. These range from assembling pizza boxes and cakes, corners on picture frames, sorting packets of information and clothing, and even packing materials into bags. While working in the cafe, students can also practice functional reading and functional money skills. They read labels, boxes, menus and directions, operate the cash register and read numbers to fill orders.
The culinary program at the Lycée d’Albertville invited students to learn alongside culinary students. The students had cooking labs and explored different ways to make the recipes.
“25 years ago, we didn’t have the kind of inclusion and support in schools for students with our exceptionalities that we have now,” Mitchell said. “It’s been an incredible change to see our kids so included and supported. It’s one of the reasons why this is an amazing opportunity for them to be able to give back to the community and show the community all that we can. do thanks to the support they have given us.
Outreach and advocacy, according to Mitchell, played a significant role in changing the narrative surrounding students in the special education program. Through programs like Aggie Pals and electives, the school creates an inclusive atmosphere that has led to some amazing friendships. Kaylor said she frequently sees her students interacting with other students, clapping and punching in the hallways.
“Principal (Jordan) Phillips and the entire high school administration went out of their way to help us. They gave us the time we needed to work on the cafe, and the system provided our transportation,” Mitchell said. We have a strong support system in Albertville. The teachers are willing to work with us and our students, so they feel welcome. We’re going to start washing and drying the culinary aprons, Coach (Chip) English is bringing in a few- one of our students sorting uniforms for him, the CNP (Child Nutrition Program) staff taught us how to sweep, mop and dust and clean the tables.”
For two weeks, students held soft openings as an opportunity for students to learn skills to do the job before the cafe opened to the public. Students were able to understand the flow and adapt to unique situations and challenges in new ways. The students served an average of 35 customers a day.
” Come and visit us. Eat with us. Business owners and potential employers, come see us,” said Kaylor. “Come see what we can do. You will be surprised.