FRESNO, Calif. — The new coffee shop in town is aiming to teach valuable lessons to the students that work there — and the customers they serve.

Kids Cafe 2019, which opened recently at 2019 Mariposa Mall, serves up a variety of coffee drinks, as well as soups and sandwiches — and also works as a hands-on classroom for some of Fresno County’s special education students.

Pupils from the Fresno County Office of Education’s adult transition program, which focuses on helping 18-to-22-year-olds become more independent, follow the lead of restaurant professionals at the cafe, handling everything from washing dishes and greeting customers to chopping vegetables and taking orders.

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About 25 students have already received their food-handling certification, and the Office of Education aims to get about half of the 140 students in the adult transition program certified.

“Many of our students don’t have a plan when they leave us, and that’s really the barrier we’re trying to break down because there are many things they could be doing — so many things they’re capable of,” said Trina Frazier, administrator of special education.

“Our hope is that we can actually talk to the businesses and restaurants here in Fresno and have them tell us what they need students to know, so that when they leave us at 22 they’re able to find employment.”

The cafe, which is open to the public, helps the students learn social and vocational skills, which work toward their school credits. All proceeds go toward the program.

Educators at last week’s ribbon cutting said they hope the cafe will also help end the stigma against adults with special needs, especially when it comes to employment.

Juan Lopez, a 17-year-old from Selma who is a student of the county’s deaf and hard-of-hearing program, said through an interpreter that he hopes the skills he learns at the cafe will help him land a job in mechanics.

“I want to work. I want to get the experience and be able to get a job later on, on my own,” Lopez said. “We have disabled people here, and deaf and hard of hearing people, and we want to show people that we’re able to work and that we can do things and be independent.”

The Fresno County Office of Education serves 1,700 students in special education living throughout the county. Superintendent of Schools Jim Yovino said the cafe is the “absolute best thing” he’s ever done.

“We wanted to show the world that these kids are very capable. We just wanted to give them a chance and an opportunity,” he said. “They have challenges that they face every day, but they’re capable.”

Kids Cafe 2019 is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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