Vocational program helps students with intellectual disabilities
HAYWARD — On the Hayward Adult School campus, tucked away down a dimly lit hall, there is a place where simple life lessons are taught.
Those lessons begin around 8 a.m. Monday through Friday, when the 13 students in Glenn Parado’s job transition program file into their classroom: a makeshift coffee shop called The Mocha Cafe, set up next to the Hayward Adult School bookstore.
Right off the bat, there is a checklist of things to be done as The Mocha Cafe opens for business at 8:30 a.m., and everybody has a role. Tables and chairs must be cleaned and set up. The espresso machine needs to be working. Pastries, condiments, snacks and bagels must be set out. And whole coffee beans need to be run through the coffee grinder.
It is an almost daily routine that is intended to prepare students with mild to severe intellectual disabilities for life after they age out of the public school system.
“We try to teach them how to behave when you’re at work or in class and things that a lot of people take for granted, such as having clean clothes when you come to school, wearing deodorant, brushing their teeth, washing their face and making sure their hair is clean,” Parado said in an interview at the coffee shop.
“Things that we take for granted are things that we need to reinforce and tell our students,” he said.
They are lessons that go beyond vocational tasks taught each day, such as how to make a variety of beverages, count money, stock inventory and merchandise products, Parado said. He is the third teacher to lead The Mocha Cafe program since it began in 1999.
“When I first started teaching and these issues would come up, I remember thinking, ‘I guess I need to talk about that because that’s an issue we need to deal with,’ ” Parado said.
“And then there’s also romantic relationships. Their developments are a little behind, but they’re almost at a junior high or early high school (level) as far as dealing with romantic relationships, so we kind of have to tell them how they should behave in that regard as well,” he said.
Parado, who has led efforts at The Mocha Cafe since 2011, said the coffee shop is part of the school district’s job transition program, provided under federal law for students with intellectual disabilities after they graduate from high school. Such programs are provided until the students are 22 years old and are designed to teach key independent living skills, such as positive job ethics, customer service etiquette and teamwork, Parado said.
“A majority of our customers are from the English as a second language program, which is right across the hall, and they go on break at 10:30 a.m.,” Parado said during a brief respite from the morning rush at the coffee shop.
“A couple of times, we’ve had the line come out to the door with all of these people wanting to get coffee for their break, and they’ll fill up all of the tables in here,” he said.
Students typically stay in The Mocha Cafe program for about two years before they are transferred to one of the four other adult transition programs offered by the school district for students 18 to 22 years old. Though most of his students are from Hayward, some have come from Castro Valley, San Lorenzo and San Leandro, Parado said.
“Technically we’re open to the public, so people could walk off the street to come and have a cup of coffee, but we have very limited hours … and we’re also kind of hidden because we’re inside of a neighborhood and inside of a school,” Parado said.
All proceeds from The Mocha Cafe go toward buying more supplies and subsidizing field trips for students, who have outings at nearby restaurants, bowling alleys, miniature golf courses and movie theaters. Students are taught how to catch AC Transit buses and BART trains during some field trips, Parado said.
Once students age out of the public school system, regional centers run by the state Department of Developmental Services helps place them in job programs or connect their families to additional services.
Some former students have been placed in jobs through Community Integrated Work Program in Hayward, which offers limited work hours to people with intellectual disabilities and support programs.
Other former students participate in Hayward Area Recreation and Park District programs at Sorensdale Recreation Center, including literacy, math, job preparation, communication, personal health, physical fitness, gardening, performing arts and music.
Parado also recalled running into two coffee shop alumni who now work at Lucky and Smart & Final.
“You know, at the end of the day, I’m tired but I’m happy, because I realize that I’m doing something pretty cool,” Parado said
“They’re just a joy to be around, and just seeing the students grow and learn skills that they’ll need as they get older makes it all worthwhile,” he said.
Plans are now in the works to open The Mocha Cafe’s second location in the Alameda County Office of Education office on Winton Avenue. It will be geared for people with intellectual disabilities who are at least 22 years old and have aged out of the public school system, Parado said.
“It has been about two years in the making, but there are different hurdles that they have to jump through, such as regulations, acquiring new equipment and remodeling the space for the cafe,” Parado said.
THE MOCHA CAFE
Where: Hayward Adult School, 22100 Princeton St., Hayward
When: 8:30 a.m.-12:45 p.m. Monday-Friday