Innovative ‘Panther Pals’ Breakfast Program Benefits Special Needs Students

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Students who participate in the Panther Pals Breakfast Program at Saucon Valley Elementary School are learning life and job skills in a positive, supportive environment.

Students who participate in the Panther Pals Breakfast Program at Saucon Valley Elementary School are learning life and job skills in a positive, supportive work environment. Pictured along with the students are teachers Bri Barona (kneeling, left) and Melissa Janis (second row, right), who authored the grant application for the program’s funding.

An innovative breakfast program at Saucon Valley Elementary School is giving special needs high school students an opportunity to learn job and life skills by partnering with non-disabled students, who work together with them to shop, cook and sell breakfast foods and drinks to district staff members each Thursday morning from 8 to 8:30 a.m.

The Panther Pals breakfast program was conceived by teachers Melissa Janis–a middle school speech and language therapist–and Bri Barona–a high school learning support teacher–who together authored a grant application and submitted it to the Saucon Valley Foundation for Educational Innovation for consideration.

SVFEI awarded them the grant, and with the $2,300 in startup funding they received Janis and Barona purchased all the supplies and equipment needed to open the cafe for business.

It was launched in April and Janis said the goal is for the program to become self-funded and sustainable via the profits brought in from breakfast sales.

“The opportunities created enable our students with special needs to increase their independent living, employment, social and academic skills in a variety of settings,” Janis said. “Non-disabled students benefit from volunteering their time in working to fully include everyone in their community.”

“They’re doing a very good job with all of it,” she said on a busy Thursday morning, as teachers and staff lined up to order food and coffee in the hall next to the window where orders are taken and picked up.

Staff members can visit the cafe and order in person, or high school staff can order online in advance via a Google Docs order form.

Foods available to order include muffins, bagels with butter or cream cheese, brownies, cookies and yogurt/fruit/granola parfaits. Coffee and tea are also served.

Janis explained that each Tuesday the students shop for food and supplies at Giant, and Wednesday work to prepare it for Thursday morning. Students from the Intermediate Unit 20’s Autistic Support class also assist with prep work each week.

With the success of the Panther Pals program, Janis and Barona said they hope to expand it when school resumes in the fall.

Freshly-baked muffins are sold at the Panther Pals Cafe each Thursday morning.

A handmade sign welcomes visitors to the Panther Pals Cafe.

Students get to practice their math skills by making change for customers at the cafe, such as middle school special education teacher Megan Schemm.

Jake prepares an order for a customer at the Panther Pals Cafe.

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