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ESP leader serves up life skills for students

11/21/2016

For Lorraine Hall, it’s all about helping students with special needs transition into their post-school lives.

And the Learning Curve Café is the main path the job trainer and ESP president at Lancaster-Lebanon Intermediate Unit 13 uses to pave the way.

Hall, with the supervisory help of 20 paraprofessionals and teachers, oversees the student-run café, which provides breakfast and lunch at the IU’s Burle Building, a facility for students with special needs. About 60 students, ranging from ages 14 to 21, are the cooks, hosts and hostesses, and the clean-up crew.

“We are teaching them to gain and maintain independence,” said Hall, who has been ESP president at the IU since the local was formed 12 years ago. “The café builds a lot of confidence in kids with low self-esteem.’’

The students rotate to do all of the jobs in the café, which features light items such as coffee, donuts, and bagels, and a larger lunch menu with items such as pizza, baked potatoes, and hot dogs.

“They learn skills to help them transition to life, along with how to communicate with co-workers and customers,’’ Hall said. “And how to disagree and agree with people properly.’’

Hall has spent 22 years in public education, 20 of them with the Lancaster-Lebanon IU.

Like all educators across Pennsylvania, she has struggled with the fallout from nearly $1 billion in school funding cuts and the attacks on public education.

But Hall said the café creates a closeness among students and staff that is family like, and extends to the students’ post-school lives.

“Because we are so close, the students are very vocal and tell us their struggles,’’ Hall said. “If we can help them break through that chaos and transition into life, it’s very rewarding. 

“I sometimes run into former students who are out in life and doing well, and they often express their appreciation. That makes you feel like you’ve served a purpose. It’s very heartwarming.’’  

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