Cheap coffee, better lessons


Kaitlyn Glasgow

Barista Audrey Bernaboo (left) hands finished coffee to waiting customer.

A nook in the cafeteria harbors a sanctuary for KHS’s caffeine-crazy students. Matte black machines spit out the bitter brown liquid. Skilled craftsmen froth milk and pour ice. Students flick orders off their tongues like catchphrases. In the middle of it all, Joshua Gift, a man with a bleached mustache and beard, wanders with purpose. The name of this place? Pioneer Perks

Gift began his career as an art teacher, transitioning to special-education. While Gift found art rewarding, he loved his interactions with special-education students. 

“I really fell in love with it,” Gift said. “I was already certified to teach, so I went back and got certified for special-education, [and] now I’m here.”

Gift took over Pioneer Perks in 2018. Despite having experience before the pandemic, Gift said running the business is still challenging. 

“It’s difficult, because [when] people in the morning don’t have their coffee, they’re a little impatient,” Gift said. “When we get new students, things [tend] to move slower,[because] they’re not trained yet.”

Some students say they are happy to wait a few extra minutes. Lucy Seibert, sophomore, said she wants to contribute to employee growth when buying from Pioneer Perks

“I think it’s just really important to be [patient], it’s a little sacrifice I make [so] my classmates are supported,” Seibert said. “Especially since so many people make fun of special education students, it’s [meaningful].”

Gift said students like Seibert and McNees are a necessary part of running the shop. Without customers, Gift says employees wouldn’t learn the skills they need to use on the job.

It’s not designed to make money, but to build up the job skills of our students.

— Joshua Gift

Gift said he’s seen tremendous growth in his student’s job skills following their assignment to Pioneer Perks. Growth he’s seen especially with students’ goals set at the beginning of the year. 

“We’ve seen students get employed [in competitive positions], and that’s always the end goal when it comes to these types of programs,” Gift said. “We work on [reaching] those goals and then moving above and beyond.”

Gift said Pioneer Perks serves as an opportunity for students to take pride in their work and develop skills outside the job. Skills that Gift said are intangible. 

“It’s important that we create an environment where students grow,” Gift said. “If we can see students not just develop workplace skills, but employability skills, we’re so happy.”