Many of Walker High School's students with special needs will get their first job at a PJ's coffee location on campus.

School staff hope the jobs will teach students budgeting, marketing and time management, giving them practical, useful experience outside the classroom.

“It’s going to be the first job for most of the kids," special education teacher Brenna Perez said Wednesday. "Most have not been of the age to have a job and this will be their first opportunity to be working.”

The chain coffee shop’s Walker High location opened Tuesday with a limited menu in place until corporate officials can schedule a training day on-site, giving students the full rundown on how to be a barista.

The shop is staffed by rotating classes of 10th and 11th grade students from 7 a.m. until 1 p.m. on school days as part of their elective study skills classes.

On Wednesday — the shop’s first day open with students on campus — student employees huddled around the cash register, organizing the supplies and making drinks as customers trickled in around lunchtime.

Most of their stock had been wiped out on the first official day in business Tuesday, when only teachers were on campus. Perez said that's a good problem to have by day two.

Walker High School has spent more than a year molding its campus into a mini business plaza with a Papa John’s, a credit union, a Walk-On’s Bistreaux and Bar branded conference center and a Nike store. In most cases, students are offered the chance to work on site.

The school has worked in recent years to expand its technical offerings, including the October opening of a paint and body shop on campus with donations from Gerry Lane Enterprises and PPG Paints and a scaffolding class in partnership with local business Apache Industries.

The special needs students working at PJ’s Coffee won’t be earning wages in the same way they would with a job at one of the other on-campus businesses. It is considered a certification or technical offering as part of a class.

“Whatever track they’re going they still benefit from having this experience because they’re getting organizational skills, time management, all these things that make them good employees,” district special education transition coordinator April Morgan said.

According to Perez, the Wednesday class’s teacher, the kids would sometimes struggle with counting money. But, being so young, they breezed through the working of the iPad and app that manages ordering at the register.

Walker High School Principal Jason St. Pierre said eventually the shop will be set up with the same FanFood app used for concessions at sporting events at the school, meaning customers can put in their order and pay ahead of time.

“We’re going to become baristas all together,” St. Pierre said. “They’re going to learn the whole aspect of the business, supplies, the finances, turning the money, the whole gamut of running a business.”

The shop is open from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. through the week and is open to the public as well as the school community.

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