Two Friday afternoons a month the students in Bonnie Iannaccone’s class prepare to open the Snack Shack at Heritage High School after lunch.

Wearing their uniform of T-shirts, aprons and hats, the students have snacks they made packaged for sale and are ready to make frappes, slushies and other drinks on demand for the next 90 minutes.

The treats sell for only a dollar or two, but the experience for the students is invaluable.

Everyone has a specific job, from handing off order forms to blending drinks to delivering orders to waiting customers or classrooms. Working alongside the students are their teacher, a teaching assistant and two transition job coaches, Angie Dixson and Doug O’Neil, to focus the students and guide them in developing workplace skills.

Soon people are walking in to place orders, and online orders are popping up on a screen, which O’Neil monitors but all the students can see.

“I brought my class for a treat,” teacher Pam Gravatt said at the Snack Shack earlier this month.

Meanwhile, students from a physics class were deciding which new drinks to sample, and one of Iannaccone’s students was rolling a cart out the door to deliver multiple drinks to a classroom with O’Neil’s help.

“I need napkins,” Melinda Hensley called out as she noticed a spill on the side of a drink she was about to take to a waiting customer.

Noting that the whipped cream can Dixon was using to garnish a drink was nearly empty, Dylan Hill offered to throw it away and bring her another.

“I like making slushies and making people happy,” Dylan said during a break in the almost nonstop orders.

Custodian Angie Bean popped in to pick up an energy drink and chat with the students. “They’re my kids,” she said affectionately.

Athletes like protein shakes

“Our athletes like to come get some of our protein shakes,” Iannaccone noted.

“They really support our students,” she said of the Heritage High teachers, students and staff.

This is the third year for the school-based enterprise, but it’s not the only work experience the students in Iannaccone’s Comprehensive Development Classroom gain.

On Tuesday and Thursdays, for example, they work at Blount Memorial Hospital preparing the silverware and folding laundry. On Wednesdays, they harvest herbs in the greenhouses for Special Growers, a Maryville nonprofit that provides vocational training and employment opportunities.

The students may be stocking shelves at the Kroger on Hall Road or labeling food packages for Second Harvest. On Fridays, they also help clean the Heritage campus.

“We evaluate each student every day at their worksite,” Dixon said.

Students in the CDC class can earn a new Occupational Diploma the state initiated in the 2015-16 school year, which requires students to complete an individualized education program and to master workplace skills, including two years of paid or unpaid work experience. They may still remain in school and work toward a full diploma until they turn 22.

Working in the Snack Shack gives them experiences speaking with people, following orders, accepting feedback and more, including sanitation and hygiene rules. When they make the drinks, for example, students learn to measure the ingredients.

Students growing

They also are learning to follow three-step directions, Dixon noted. “I see them grow every week,” she said.

“Maranda had a reminder for herself to get ice in the morning,” Iannaccone said, explaining that the student took the initiative to write a note for herself on the classroom board so she would be prepared to make drinks in the blenders.

Because the CDC classroom has no oven or running water, the students are limited in what they can offer and must plan ahead.

The proceeds from the Snack Shack, about $800 last year, all go to the special education program. “We fund all of our activities with this,” Iannaccone said. That has included adding equipment, such as blenders to make the drinks, buying a personal safety curriculum for the students, and fun trips, like a visit to a pumpkin patch.

Amy Beth earned her degree from West Virginia. She joined The Daily Times in 2016 on the education beat covering Alcoa, Maryville and Blount County school systems.

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