Cafe Class for Deaf and IM students

The Hearing Support Unit is made up of hearing impaired and mildly intellectually disabled students from the surrounding region. Some students have both disabilities.

These students could attend a regular school and integrate into mainstream classes but their parents chose to send them to Kogarah High School which has the unit set up to cater for their special needs. There is a cafe, Hope Cafe, on school grounds which the special needs students run entirely on their own, with direction of dedicated teacher Mark Gilbert.

The students, from years 7 to 12, do the books and the accounts, make the food and drinks, clean and serve the students and teachers at Kogarah High School on Monday lunchtimes and other special occasions. By the time they leave school some students will have five years of experience working in a café - indeed, some students already have jobs in local cafés.

The students have been on an excursion to Centre Point Tower touring the restaurant kitchen and dining in the revolving restaurant. The hospitality industry is thus the most like career path for people with hearing and mild intellectual disabilities.

The local community support the school and the efforts being made for this type of vocational education. Whilst some students participate in regular class subjects, and some even take HSC subjects, generally the theoretical learning environment of regular classrooms does not suit these students.

The cafe is perceived as such a good classroom because the students get practical hands on work experience and learn real life working tasks over and over again, increasing their chances of performing the task independently. Some students however will never be able to perform the simplest of tasks no matter how many times it is demonstrated to them, but this does not deter Mark form trying to teach them - his dedication and perseverance is admirable.

Mark gets students to perform different jobs in the café depending on their level of comprehension, but he emphasises that all students have equal responsibility in the café. Mark is very hands on, teaching the students new skills all the time. For example, he once held a competition for the coffee shop uniform design. Students submitted designs and the winner was monetarily awarded. It was a very successful task, enabling students to work on computers and see a tangible outcome for their efforts. Mark feels that fostering a sense of purpose and reward is the best way to teach kids.

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VJ Michael Gumley