CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Alta Vista Elementary sells some of the sweetest coffee in town. It’s not the flavor or the sugar that makes it sweet, though – it’s the service.

Five days a week, students in kindergarten through sixth grade sell coffee, tea and hot chocolate to staff and any community members who wander in.

Alison Paniagua said, “Our kids run the coffee cart with help and support, and our older kids keep the balance for the books and do a daily deposit. So, they’re practicing check writing and balance keeping with money.”

This past fall, she and Kelli Ferris received a $500 grant from the Cheyenne Schools Foundation to fund the coffee cart. The two teach in Alta Vista’s Program for Adaptive Living Skills, which offers real-world skills and independence, as well as academics, to students with cognitive disabilities.

Students are outfitted well for the job in embroidered Coffee Cart Café aprons and professional nametags featuring the Alta Vista Wolves logo. Cheyenne Stitch donated the aprons, and Trophy Creative donated the nametags.

Teachers bring a mobile coffee cart to the school’s main lobby every afternoon. Students make the beverages with two small Keurig coffeemakers. They also have individually packaged bags of tea and packages of hot chocolate.

The teachers labeled all the buttons, bags and other items with numbers and colors to help the students.

“So, we can work on our colors and our numbers and identification – all of those functional skills, along with sequencing and counting of coins and change and things like that,” Paniagua said.

Every teacher has a laminated, reusable menu they can use to place orders. Paniagua said they fill about 18-20 orders a week.

Students serve the drinks mostly to adults, though students are allowed to order hot chocolate.

In fact, Brent Young, Alta Vista’s principal, allows students to purchase certificates to have hot chocolate with him. The kids use golden tickets they receive for good behavior at the schools.

Young said the cart has been great for the kids running it.

“Obviously, one of their goals is for the communication, and so it just allows them an opportunity to practice and develop their communication skills,” he explained.

The cart is open from 1:30-2 p.m. and 2:15-3 p.m. nearly every day. Paniagua said she has 14 students, and about 11 or 12 of them work on the cart each week. The students take turns, so they all get the experience.

“Our younger kids are the first half hour, and then our older kids are the last 45 minutes,” Paniagua said.

They started running the coffee cart early in November, and Ferris said she already is seeing phenomenal differences in her students’ communication skills.

“They’re much more vocal and able to communicate more than they were when we first started this,” Ferris said.

Paniagua explained that most of their students are vocal but nonverbal.

The cart is equipped with a switch the kids can flip when customers approach the cart. It activates an electronic welcome message.

Paniagua said she plans to continue helping the students operate the coffee cart each year. The students have made nearly $500 since November while also buying supplies.

The drinks aren’t expensive, either. Coffee costs the most at $1. Tea is 75 cents, and hot chocolate is 50 cents.

Paniagua said she expects the cart will be able to cover the cost of supplies and earn extra money each year, which they would like to use for field trips with students in the Program for Adaptive Living Skills at other elementary schools.

The cart is modeled off similar coffee carts in the junior high and high schools in Laramie County School District 1, particularly Carey Junior High and East High.

“(East High is) running a percolator, and so that was a little too sophisticated for our students.

So, we decided the Keurigs would be a great alternative,” Paniagua said.

Carey runs a delivery system, but Paniagua said her kids are not ready for that. The Coffee Cart Café started as a purely stationary cart, but Paniagua and Ferris eventually decided the kids could handle some walking deliveries as well.

Paniagua said the coffee cart at Alta Vista will help the students who attend Carey Junior High after the sixth grade.

“They’ll have a set of skills that go with them that they can then apply,” she said.

Information from: Wyoming Tribune Eagle,