Students performing tasks at Finny's Coffee Shop.

Students with disabilities earn Food Handler certification at Alden Road “Finny’s Coffee Shop”

May 4, 2023 – Measuring the oil. Mixing the batter. Laying the cookies on a baking sheet and placing them into the oven.

It’s all in a day’s work at Finny’s Coffee Shop at Alden Road Exceptional Student Center, a Duval County Public school for students with disabilities. 

“This is a program that is hands on and academic at the same time,” said Jennifer Sellas, lead teacher at the school. “Students are prepared to get the technical skills and the soft skills they need for their workplace.”

For some of the most advanced students, that workplace preparation includes the opportunity to earn a SafeStaff Food Handler Certificate. According to SafeStaff, this certification is required of all Florida food employees working in a food service establishment licensed by the state’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

“When I see them working, when I see them in the community, I just feel like completely satisfied,” said Sellas, who piloted the course and curriculum. “The community can see our students and see that they’re able to work and that they can do something great for our community.”

Finny’s Coffee Shop falls under Alden Road’s Community Based Vocational Education, or CBVE, Program. Under the supervision of a teacher, students receive real-world instruction in an on-campus kitchen equipped with up-to-code commercial appliances.

“When it comes to the technical skills, they work on food safety, they learn about food contamination, food temperature control, they learn to wash dishes clean sanitize,” said Sellas.

In addition to cooking, students are tasked with learning soft skills ranging from teamwork, reliability, and good attendance in the workplace. Students are also learning customer service skills by serving snacks and refreshments to their peers in a café setting.

In the end, they’re all lessons that are paying off for students, with several who have earned internships and paying positions with employers like Chartwells, Golden Corral, UNF, and more.  

“It’s a life-changing experience,” said Sellas. “Other schools come to to see our programs and replicate them. So we’re very proud of what we’re doing.”

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