‘Burristas’ serve up drinks each week

SSUSD program gives special-needs students work experience

‘Burristas’ serve up drinks each weekMikaylah Flores, Nadira Martinez and Denny Bartles in Heather Orosco’s Life Skills class at Burroughs High School earn work experience while offering a popular service to staff and faculty in several Sierra Sands Unified School District schools — Photo by Laura Austin



News Review Staff Writer

What do teachers like better than freshly brewed coffee drinks in the morning? Having those drinks delivered right to their desks – something the Burroughs High School “Burristas” program has provided for nearly 10 years.

Through the Burristas, students with special-education needs develop valuable work skills while brightening mornings for staff and teachers, said Jenny Barcenas, job developer and coach at BHS.

Barcenas currently has six students as paid employees with two more as “job shadowers” who brew the coffee, steam the milk, blend the smoothies and deliver the drinks every Wednesday under her direction.

“The best part is just the joy they get out of it,” said Barcenas. “They get so excited every Wednesday morning — they just throw their aprons on and they’re ready to work. You hear a lot of the gen ed kids complaining about going to work, but for all of our students it’s ‘Yay, I get to work!’ There’s no sense of obligation, they just enjoy it. And the teachers always enjoy seeing the kids.”

Barcenas took over the program during the 2015 school year, and since that inception, the Burristas have seen a lot of growth. The program is funded through the California Department of Education’s WorkAbility program, which offers grants to provide work experience or job placement for any student in an individual education program.

The school first heard about school cafe programs at a WorkAbility conference in 2008, after which the students in Bethany Smosna’s Life Skills classroom began making coffee and hot chocolate and delivering them to BHS staff.

The students had added teas and lattes to the menu by the time Barcenas took over. As of this year, the program has added smoothies, frappuccinos, Orange Juliuses and Hostess treats and they deliver to nearly 60 customers at three different school sites.

The Burristas still operate out of the Life Skills class, which is now taught by Heather Orosco. But the program has become demanding enough that students from other special-resource classes have been hired on to help.

“We’ve also done a couple of sporting events – tennis, soccer, track and softball,” said Barcenas. “And my first year was also when we started delivering to other schools.”

Barcenas said she contacted Pierce Elementary School, since it was near by, and the principal said yes. Each Wednesday, Barcenas drives a few students over, loaded up with drink carriers, to make the delivery. Last year Murray Middle School relocated across the street from BHS, and Murray staff also started placing orders.

“Now all of the schools are telling us they want drinks too,” said Barcenas. “We can’t just open up to all the schools because we don’t have the time or the manpower right now. But maybe next year we can try doing more.”

Barcenas said all the students in the WorkAbility program get paid minimum wage, with their salaries coming from the state grant. What used to cover about 80 hours per week now covers only 45 because of minimum-wage increases. Staff members pay a small amount for the drinks to cover the cost for supplies.

The program has up to about a dozen students per school year placed in other jobs as well — Walgreens, Taco Bell, Ridgecrest Cinemas and other local businesses.

“The gen ed students can just go get a job,” said Barcenas. “But it’s harder sometimes for special-resources kids to get a job. They may not be able to read or spell well, or they may have other obstacles. They might be deaf, they might have autism, they might have vision problems or anxiety issues.

’“This just helps them and also boosts their confidence.”

Story First Published: 2018-12-21