School Based Business – Special Needs

School Based Business – Jaw-va Cafe – Coffee Business

Riverview High School Sharks

I’m super excited to share with you my do’s and don’ts when it comes to starting a school based business in a special needs classroom.  The video trailer you’re about to watch is the end result of something that took me 6 years to finally “perfect.”  There are many tips and tricks as well as printable docs. that you may utilize (checklists, grocery list, reviews, evals, etc).  Feel free to share with others so we can impact our community in a positive way.

Get ready to feel inspired!

I get goosebumps and a little teary eyed every time I watch my students in this trailer.

Now, to get down to business…

First and foremost you need a plan, a business plan.  What a great lesson to teach students. Yes that means you should involve them in the process.

Business Plan/School Based Business Idea

Is a coffee business the best school based business for your classroom?  Chart out items that are provided and not provided on campus to faculty and students.  This will help you figure out what to sell or provide a service to bring in income.  Also, make sure to understand your students capabilities and what tasks may need modifications/accommodations for success.

Here is an example of a layout for a simple business plan

simple business plan

Goals, Objectives and Standards

Review each students IEP and list the goals and objectives.  Use interest surveys and parent/student input to help figure out particular skills that can be utilized as well as skills that need improvement or practice. Review State Standards for Career Prep.

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Classwork Examples related to employability skills

Pay checks – Jaw-va cafe paychecks

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Use the ESTRIII at the beginning and end of each school year.

ESTR III Test Evaluation – Done twice a year

Approval is oh so important!

Review your business plan, documentation forms and example lessons for your principal to see the benefit of your classes school based business.  Not only will they be impressed but you will be ahead of the game when it’s time to start.

Learn from my mistake – if doing a business that needs POWER (outlets) make sure that you are buddy buddy with the fire safety crew that comes in frequently.  I made sure to be cleared to do the coffee business for one hour daily.  I also made sure the fire safety inspector knew my emergency plans and that all equipment was unplugged and removed everyday after an hour usage.  (There have been a few times I have tripped the breaker… thank goodness I was liked and supported by our amazing maintenance crew – they helped our classroom out more times than I can count).

Meet with School Bookkeeper

Our bookkeeper is a very amazing person who is extremely helpful (Thank you Linda for all the help and encouragement. You are a big part of the success of Jaw-va Cafe).

You will need to meet with your school bookkeeper to get the appropriate information to set up a school based business account.  If you are in Hillsborough County Fl, you will need to complete the form online.

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You will also need to fill out an estimated activity budget for the school year.  You are only allowed to do so many fundraisers, so make sure to double check with your bookkeeper before finalizing any plans.

At the end of the school year you will be required to fill out an expenditure and profit form.  Make sure your printed account information matches your carbon copied receipts.

End of the school year expenditures and profits form (Our awesome bookkeeper sends monthly account info to help us stay on track).

I made sure to keep all carbon copied receipts for purchases and sales in a binder. When turning in paper receipts from stores, make sure to attach them to the carbon copy form and sign each paper receipt.

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When I first started this school based business we didn’t have very much funding.  Lots of items came out of my paycheck.  I knew I couldn’t continue to use all my personal funds and decided to make a list of items needed and post on  I was ever so grateful to be supported and provided with a coffee pot, cups, lids, and coffee to get us started.  Also, just so you know I didn’t always have a sink and large counter top in my classroom.  I actually built in a counter with cabinets that I purchased from Bay Center Cabinets and hanging cabinets that I got from a friend who was redoing their kitchen.  My husband helped me tile the top of the cabinets (thank God for his handy work). This is all before I was thankfully moved to a classroom that could better support this business.


Before the JOB: Application, Resume, Interview practice/skills

I had my students complete an application, resume and interview as a pretest at the beginning of the year.  We continued to work on those skills all year long. We would do quarterly interviews with different people.  They typed their work weekly and at the end of the year participated in a professional interview with their application completed and a resume to hand to the interviewer before the interview.  Making things ‘Real World’ for my students was and is so important.

forms – simple application form

Job Interview Questions – I made all my students interview for Jaw-va Cafe as a Pretest and then had them interview again at the end of the year for Jaw-va Cafe again when they had their applications, resumes and interview clothes prepped and ready (finalized and ‘perfected’).

Practice Interview Questions – students can pick words that will best answer each question.  It is more of a CLOZE activity.

Make sure to have your students interview for different types of jobs (review and prepare them always) and done by different people.  It’s a better way to evaluate progress and continue to see where they may need help.  I also video taped each interview so we could review them in class.  It’s important for them to see themselves and hear themselves.  The majority of the time they will catch a couple mistakes and will normally fix one during the next interview. (Thanks Mr. Massena and Coach Ron for the help with being an interviewer and reviewing classwork with my students).

Resume Draft Resumes 2 Resume Part 3 Resume Part 4 – Resume practice worksheets

Work on typing skills!!!!! Have each student type their own Resume (do it in sections so that if it doesn’t look like the example they can do that part over again).

Resume Draft

Job Objectives

Resume Practice

Resume Skills

Uniforms, Safety, and Hygiene standards

Reviewing Safety and Hygiene is extremely important when dealing with a business. Students must be reminded and held accountable for inappropriate use of equipment or behavior.  Make sure you lay out your expectations clearly and review them daily. Practice using different equipment, wearing uniform correctly,  and clean hygiene at work.  Students are evaluated on each of these especially their hygiene (is their hair brushed, teeth brushed, clean clothes, uniform washed and returned, etc) since we are selling a product that is consumed.

Jaw-va Cafe Daily Objectives:

  1. Dress appropriately, maintains uniform
  2. Attends regularly
  3. Completes task accurately
  4. Practices safety/uses equipment properly
  5. Displays good manners/appropriate personal habits
  6. Accepts criticism
  7. Corrects errors
  8. Solves problems effectively
  9. Works independently with minimal supervision

Washing Dishes Checklist

Wipe the BIG Table – checklist

Peer Evaluations Daily as well as Teacher Evaluations Daily help students get the proper feedback to increase their success rate.

Jaw-va Peer Eval


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Model proper and inappropriate job skills.  Then have students model them too.  Discuss each one as a class. My “classroom dollars” reward system has had a huge impact for student success with redirection and instruction. Students will lose ‘classroom dollars”  for cups/lids dropped, rubbing their head or messing with their hair when they are wearing gloves, or not taking their apron off to use the restroom. Immediate feedback is necessary and recommended.  Positive reinforcement is also highly effective.  Always point out good things – loudly and enthusiastically.

Social Interactions, Ordering Procedures, and Navigation Skills

Navigation: Before you even begin to deliver any type of order, make sure to review the school map and do a campus walk thru for at least a week.  I included a stack of cups with different room numbers and had each student lead the class to that room and match the cup to the room.  Sometimes we were led the wrong way, that is why you practice it over and over again.

It is important that the students understand and recognize that the number on the cup needs to match the room number next to the classroom door. Make sure to review how to hold the cup correctly as well as walk a safe but not too slow of a pace (I had to time one student because it took so long and I had to charge classroom dollars for a student who would stop walking too fast and spilling the coffee).  It is also important that you let mistakes happen and let the student learn from them – meaning… if they deliver to the wrong room they must return and fix the mistake with some guidance.  Frequently, this means they lose “classroom dollars” to pay for the coffee.  It also means they have to learn about criticism and a chance to grow in their knowledge of employment.

Every year for one week we give out free coffee as our practice run.  I highly recommend this!  Teachers love free things especially when they are delivered right to their rooms.  This is a great way to work out some kinks as well as ‘advertise’ your classroom business.

Ordering: When we first started out only the teacher and teaching aide took orders over the phone.  It took lots of practice as well as informing customer teachers of our procedures to get to the point where we could have some of our students take orders over the phone.

Here is the order form we use.  Use color ink if you can.


Phone Orders – document

How an order works:

  1. An order form is filled out either over the phone or through the teachers email.
  2. Placed on counter for student to fill
  3. Form and order are placed in delivery tray and given to another student to deliver (students name that is delivering order is written on bottom of form)
  4. delivery student then checks for cream, sugar, change, etc
  5. Gets it checked by the teacher or teaching aide
  6. When approved and cleared, they leave the order form on the main table and deliver the order
  7. When order is complete student shows money (if it wasn’t a pay in advance teacher) and inserts it into the cash register
  8. They then stamp PAID on order form and place into the finished orders tray
  9. They empty their tray if needed and check for new orders

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Social Interactions: Students who specifically deliver are required to wear a delivery picture checklist to help them remember each step as well as use their words (if able).  I have been blessed the past few years to have a speech pathologist who loves to work with students on and off her caseload related to social interactions (especially job skill ones).  Thank Mrs. Bolger for video taping deliveries to review with students as well as helping with checklists and students goals and objectives (behaviors, responses and initiating tasks and conversation).

Checklists, Routines and Expectations

Free documents have been provided throughout this post.  Please feel free to modify and edit per need.  Here are some more:

Jaw-va Cafe Job checklists

Jaw-va Cafe Steps

Pay checks

Review for Jaw

Coffee Ppt


Review and Practice the steps.  I made sure to train my students for the first 3 weeks of school before doing a FREE trial run week.  That gave us a full 4 weeks before we truly opened our doors and charged for our services. Make sure to work out all the kinks you can.  Of course, things will come up during the year.

Here are some example checklists for when students complete their personal job checklist.  I had some students who thought they could clock out when they finished their personal checklist instead of help out with other jobs that needed to get done but weren’t delegated.  This helped students also work on initiating tasks and problem solving skills.

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Review how to clock in and out.  Practice it!  For those that have a hard time getting it in the right spot – highlight the area.  I used their time cards to put their daily grade (teacher eval.) next to each day worked.  They would get paid weekly (started off with fake cash and then moved to checks).  Their score dictated their pay. For example; if a student earned 45 to 50 points (50 being the most) they received $20 dollars on their paycheck. See photo example below.

If a student was fired for that day (they were handed a pink slip and had to turn in their uniform) and they received a 0 for that days work.  Yes I did fire some students.  Most of the time they were able to start over fresh the next day. Very important to start the next day with a clean slate (Yesterdays mistakes have been dealt with and addressed, no need to bring it up again.  They know the consequence if it happens again.)


Make sure items have a place and items are labeled.  This helps students become more independent.

Every student/employee needs to have an ID.  They also need a place to store their uniforms, ID’s and other items.  If you’re unable to get lockers make sure to have a spot for each students belongings.

Weekly Essential Question posted on board and stated

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Reward system – “Classroom Store” to shop in with the money earned from work as well as throughout the school day.


I made a student interest survey related to items at Walmart/Target that students could circle.  I would add more to the picture list as the year went on.  Students could even use their money to purchase items for others (parents, siblings, friends for birthdays, holidays and other events).  I had many students who would save their money and never spend it, so gift cards were added and big items to get them to spend LOL.  I also inflated the prices because they were earning ‘fake’ cash and I was spending ‘real’ cash on the items.

Keep It Simple

Take it from me – start simple!  I thought my students could handle two sizes of cups  for two different prices at the beginning.  I learned the hard way.  Start with one size cup for one price (I suggest $1 – easier to count and keep up with).  Only have a few items to sell.  Our class only does coffee, hot chocolate and french vanilla cappuccinos.  We tried decaf and tea at one point but not enough sold and it was a pain.  Remember you (the teacher) will be going shopping for the items.  Unfortunately in Hillsborough County I was no longer cleared to take students on the HART bus to SAMs Club… (CBI trips are regulated differently than they used to be) I’ll review Community Based Instruction in a different blog post another day.

I chose to use SAMs Club because it was near by and I knew they had the items I needed.  Here is the shopping list I had my ‘manager’ student complete with an expo marker each week so I knew what I needed and how much.  Of course this was reviewed with the teacher to make sure a second trip wasn’t needed.

Jaw-va Cafe Grocery List

I also was able to get aprons at SAMs.  I was able to get better and bigger coffee pots at Target.  Test your equipment ahead of time and only purchase one or a few items at first just in case something doesn’t work well or needs to be changed to work for your class and students.

Chose a specific time for the School Based Business.  We chose the first hour of school because we were selling coffee.  I don’t think we would’ve sold as much coffee during the last hour of school (especially since it gets hot here in Florida for most of the school year).

When your class gets the hang of the business (may take a couple years) then you can add on new tasks/jobs.  We recently added student orders to our job tasks.  We sell a smaller cup size of drinks in between classes (1st and 2nd period) and still charge a $1.00 per cup.


Presentation for Staff/Faculty

It is crazy important to present some type of power-point or video of your school based business at the beginning of the school year.  Faculty and staff need to understand the goals intended for the students success as well as the success of the business.  Also it is important that they know how much their support means to the students.  Everyone wants and needs a purpose in life and these students thrive on this particular business.  I have seen a huge change in confidence, self esteem and character with my students.  I have even seen a change in attitude and character of the staff and other students at the school towards students with disabilities.

Review what has worked well and what has caused problems. For example, sometimes teachers thought it was okay to order through students who were on deliveries…bad idea.  Most of the time the student couldn’t tell me who ordered it or what the teacher wanted.  Also, some teachers wanted to make large orders.  We also figured out that we could handle orders of 4 or 5 per a room, but if it was larger than that they had to order ahead of time (a day in advance).

Here is an example of the power-point I present each year during the pre-planning faculty meetings.  Yes you have to speak in front of your colleagues.  You’ll be fine – you can do it!


Service Learning

Use the money earned to get more supplies and to give back to the community/school.


  1. School Garden
  2. Donations for other classrooms
  3. Trick or Treat Street
  4. Relay for Life
  5. Earth Day
  6. Best Buddies
  7. Local Art Festival


Teacher Appreciation Gifts/Secretary Appreciation Gifts

We gave Koozies for each teacher that said “Shark Teachers are Jaw-amazing!” and  were given free coffee and donuts.

Make sure you thank your supporters!!!! Show and tell them how much it has impacted your students in a great way!


I like to show the faculty how the money is used. It’s just another way to show the importance of the business (You can do this through your schools email main page).

  1. CBI Trips
  2. Interview Outfits
  3. Classroom Supplies
  4. Recipe Items for daily living skills

Thank you to everyone who participated in some way with this amazing School Based Business, especially my teaching aides over the years (Mrs. Richert and Ms. Kayla). I’m very grateful for Gods blessings.  I have learned so much through the hard times and absolutely amazing times.  Click on the link below to see a recent (March 2017) video footage of Jaw-va Cafe in action.

News Channel 10 – Jaw-va Cafe Story

And here are the three videos from earlier combined together on youtube.

Jaw-va Cafe Video YouTube

Please feel free to leave comments and/or questions about school based businesses.  I’m eager to hear about other neat and inspiring ideas to help people with disabilities learn the skills needed to participate in the work force.

Katie Clark

Founder of Jaw-va Cafe

Teacher ID