You notice it as soon as you walk through the hallway.
The smell of fresh baked cookies — everything from chocolate chip to pumpkin or even oatmeal — wafts through the entryway of Greybull High School and entices anyone who catches even the faintest whiff.
In a large room, Life Skills teacher Dawn Thur supervises a motley crew of students, aides and para-educators as they prepare and bake cookies for the daily breakfast rush. While unconventional, Thur said her venture has helped create a “partnership” between the typical GHS student and those enrolled in her Life Skills class.
“We have tied typical kids with our special needs kids in a way that’s probably never been seen before,” she said.
According to Thur, the life skills program serves kids with “significant cognitive disabilities or severe emotional challenges,” individuals on the autism spectrum and, more generally, students who need additional help with social, life and employment skills.
Thur utilizes the coffee cart as a means of real-world preparation and training for their students. As opposed to simply explaining to her class how or why to do certain things, the cart acts as a venue for her students to practice and apply their everyday skills.
Thur heavily emphasizes the coffee cart as a learning experience for all students, not just those in her Life Skills class.
“I think, for what you call the ‘typical kids’,” she said, “is that they see how we interact with kids they may have been scared to handle before. By watching us do it, they learn how to do it themselves — they learn how to work and communicate with those different from them.”
While Thur expressed some initial discomfort at the idea, she emphasized that the best way to help her class learn is by, at times, “letting it go.”
In an average year, the program has between five and 12 kids enrolled in the classes. While the coffee cart is more or less a staple of her class, she mentioned that the program varies depending on the needs of those enrolled.
Chris Morency, a Para-educator assigned to help Thur’s class, said the cart has helped revitalize the image of the program.
“This is not the scary room anymore — students didn’t know what went on in here. Now they know and they want to be part of it. The cart has transformed everything — the whole school looks forward to it.”