May 17, 2012
OTTAWA — Angel Bonner waited for the teacher to emerge and promptly asked what he wanted from the coffee cart.One of the only verbal students in Jill Radler's autistic class at Ottawa-Glandorf High School, Angel takes charge, pouring the coffee, handing over a brownie and saying “thank you.” “It is fun,” the junior said later Thursday. When Angel isn't with the coffee cart, classmates can push a device that asks teachers what they want. Teacher Jill Radler started the Learn and Serve Cart program a few years ago. She'll be able to continue next year thanks to a $500 grant from Friends Business Source, of Findlay. It will help purchase a new coffee maker and other products.Radler, who works though the Putnam County Educational Service Center, was one of five to get a “We Reward Innovative Teaching Endeavors” grant. Wapakoneta High School teacher Michelle Knippen also received a grant.The seventh- through 11th-grade pupils make the coffee and various snacks. They make their way around the high school, knocking on doors and offering teachers something sweet or caffeine-laced to help them through their days. The cart is much more than this. It is a way for the school's autistic pupils to meet other teachers and work on communication and other skills.“It is a great opportunity for kids to get out into the school,” Radler said. “This is a great way for them to work on their social skills and functional life skills.”The cart comes around once every week or two. It is filled with various treats and beverages. Brownies were the popular treat Thursday. The program teaches math, cooking and social skills, Radler said. It also gets students acquainted with the rest of the school.“We are a self-contained classroom, so a lot of the kids do not get out, so this is a really good opportunity for them to get out into the school and get the interaction,” she said, adding that it also helps to boost their self-esteem.The students bring a donation bowl with them for teachers to help out the program. Geometry and pre-calculus teacher Ann Hughes almost always gets a water and snack mix. The mix Thursday was popcorn and M&Ms. She greets one student with a hug.“I think it is a wonderful program,” she said. “I have just loved it. I have learned now to interact with students with autism, and that just helps me so much.”While other students don't get to browse the cart, Hughes said the program is good for all students in the school. “It gives them an awareness of people with different disabilities and that we respect them as you respect any person,” she said. “That is a valuable lesson for all of our kids.”You can comment on this story at www.limaohio.com.