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Students with disabilities run café at Mahanoy Area High School

Some life skills students at a school district in Schuylkill County are gaining some early work experience by running their own café in between classes.

MAHANOY CITY, Pa. — Sabrina Brown's favorite part of the school day is selling snacks and drinks to students on their way to their next class.

Sabrina and her classmates at Mahanoy Area High School run the Bear Necessities Café, an initiative that allows students in the special education program to get work experience.

"I've learned that we get money if we do a good job," she said.

Although these students aren't getting an official paycheck, they're using the profits to pay for new items in the cafe and field trips. They say this is something they now want to do after they graduate.

"I like to talk a lot to my classmates. It's like you have people to talk to in your job. It's like a real job, but it's not. It's still school, but your friends are there, too," explained Joel Aracena-Castro, a life skills student.

Typically, the other students throughout the Mahanoy Area School District come to the Bear Necessities Cafe to order snacks and drinks between classes. They treat the students working behind the counter like any other coffee shop employee.

"It brings in the regular ed kids in here to interact with my students, who wouldn't normally be with them," added Sara Flexer, a life skills instructor at Mahanoy Area.

The Bear Necessities Cafe opened in 2019 and quickly became part of the special education curriculum.

Jesse Stewart turned his experience at the cafe into a full-time job at the school cafeteria.

"It helps me to do different kinds of skills with different jobs helping other people," he said.

"What I want is for people to see that people who have a disability aren't disabled in that they can't do anything. I just feel that there's always something out there for everyone that they're capable of doing," Flexer added.

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