Mind you, Tom had already won me over when he greeted me with “that’s a lovely outfit you’re wearing”.
A natural in the hospitality game, the Year 11 student has bigger ambitions – dancer, Olympic swimmer, personal trainer and flight attendant were just a few of the career possibilities he rattled off to me.
Tom is one of about eight students from the St Mary’s Unit who run Café Crumbs as part of their Modified SACE. Every Thursday at recess there is a long line of staff members putting their orders in for a cappuccino or hot chocolate in the stylish, purpose-built café in the college grounds.
Café Crumbs began operating in a classroom about 10 years ago but went upmarket in Term 2 last year as part of a major redevelopment at the Cumberland Park school.
The regular clientele quickly grew from 10 to up to 50 staff members and the café is in demand for special functions like sports day. “It gets pretty busy but I try to stay calm,” says Tom.
Under the tutelage of head chef Sarah Russell the students prepare food, greet customers, operate the cash register, assist with making and serving of beverages, and of course cleaning up.
Ruby Nankivell, who proudly tells me she was the first baby born in the Year 2000, says she loves seeing people come through the door of the café.
“They are really friendly – I love doing my job, it makes me feel good,” she says.
Like Tom, she’s not sure what she wants to do after she leaves school but is hoping to continue her studies at Flinders University’s Up the Hill program. “I have so many talents it’s hard to know what to do,” she says.
Ruth Evans, coordinator of St Mary’s Unit said the purpose of Café Crumbs was to teach job skills to help the students gain work and be valued members of the community.
Such is the enthusiasm of the students – and the customers – Ruth says “we could do it all day, but they still need to do their other school work”.
She is also hoping to make stronger connections with potential employers by exploring ways of exposing students to the wider community through the café.
“We just need to think about what that might look like,” she says.
There are other career-focused enterprises such as packing and distributing photocopy paper and loaning crockery and cutlery for events.
Lucas Martin says a highlight for him was opening the café to parents and students during sports day and decorating the space with house colours. He also likes meeting as a group before the café opens to discuss who is doing what.
Year 12 student Mitchell Wallis has the added responsibility of operating the cash register, which helps him with his numeracy skills, and Sarah says he is becoming increasingly confident in this role.
Café Crumbs is just one example of the positive impact of the St Mary’s Unit on the whole school community.
Cabra Year 11 student Emily Brockhurst volunteered in the café for one week while her classmates were doing exams and it made a lasting impression on her.
“I loved it,” she says.
“I have five or six St Mary’s Unit kids in my year level and I’ve experienced their behaviour in class but here they are completely different.
“It was lovely to see how comfortable they felt, they speak their own mind and are more open… when we went shopping I saw how well they get on in public – it’s actually that experience that has made me interested in working with people with a disability.”
Emily says having the St Mary’s Unit in the school makes students realise that everyone is different and brings the best out in people. “It was great to have SMU students in home class, you really get to know them,” she says.
Ruth says Cabra’s inclusive approach to the way it runs the unit is unique. “It’s very much part of the school,” she says. “And we have a 100 per cent SACE Modified completion – we’re very proud of that.”
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