Fossil students thrive inside the trendy coffee shop they operate

The cozy coffee shop looks nothing like a classroom. Colorful hand-painted records dot one wall. Positive messages scrawled in brightly colored markers cover another. Upbeat pop music floats from speakers around the room as baristas quickly fill orders behind the counter. 

This authentic feel is exactly what makes Cup of Joe such a special place, said Adam Waters, Alternative Cooperative Education coordinator at Fossil Ridge High School. The coffee shop is a place where students with a wide range of special needs develop career skills, make friends, and create a unique gathering place inside their school.

“I’d love for kids to walk out of here feeling comfortable with job skills,” Waters said. “I want it to be as much of a real experience as possible.”

  • A student purchases coffee at Cup of Joe cafe at Fossil Ridge High School.
  • Student employees make coffee at Fossil's Cup of Joe cafe.
  • A cashier helps a customer at Cup of Joe cafe.
  • Students hang out at tables at Cup of  Joe cafe.
  • A "You Are Beyond Enough" sign hangs on a wall at Cup of Joe.
  • Fancy drinks with whipped cream at Cup of Joe cafe.
  • A student writes on the whiteboard at Cup of Joe cafe.

Students in his career skills classes have a role in every aspect of the operations side of Cup of Joe – they learn skills ranging from accounting to customer service to facility maintenance to menu development. It gives students a safe place to develop stress management skills – Cup of Joe has morning rushes just like any other coffee shop – and gives students the chance to connect with local businesses who are also suppliers for the store. 

Dalton, a senior at Fossil Ridge, worked at Cup of Joe last year and now likes to stop by as a customer. He’s proud of his legacy of helping get frappés added to the menu. 

“It’s nice to come in here and hang out with my friends,” he said. 

Sophomore Bailey currently works at the coffee shop and said Cup of Joe is her favorite place at Fossil. She works the register, makes drinks and helps with the business side of things, she said. But Cup of Joe is much more than just a class for her.

“I’ve kind of met some new people here, definitely made some lifelong friends,” she said. “It’s kind of like a home, basically.”

This welcoming atmosphere helps bring students together. Some serve as teaching assistants at Cup of Joe. Others come in as patrons to get a treat during their free periods.

“These students (who work at Cup of Joe) end up getting friends and advocates they might not have met if it weren’t for the coffee shop,” Waters said.