Lou Hatten-Walker believes she would enjoy a career as a barista after working at the Common Grounds Cafe inside Durango Public Library.
Hatten-Walker, 18, began working at Common Grounds when she was a sophomore at Durango High School. On Tuesday, she began her fourth year at the cafe as part of Durango School District 9-R’s Pathways program. Pathways aids special education students ages 18 to 21 with work skills after they leave high school.
Both Pathways students and special education students from DHS fill the shifts at the Common Grounds, which is open for drive-up and take-out service from the public library’s lobby.
“My favorite part of the job is the drinks, making the drinks,” Hatten-Walker said. “Some people give you specific instructions. Some people give you general instructions, and you have more to interpret.”
Corrie McCarthy, a job coach with 9-R at the cafe, said Common Grounds provides hands-on work experience for students so they are more work-ready when they graduate.
Based on individual skills, students can progress up the hierarchy – buser, cashier, barista, head barista. As head barista, students are capable of running the entire cafe from the making of the drinks to the business side.
“A head barista will pretty much know all the ins and outs of running a small business,” McCarthy said.
During the school year, DHS students will walk down the Animas River Trail to fill one- to two-hour shifts. During summer, students’ shifts can extend to six hours.
DHS students’ work at the cafe is also associated with a class teaching work skills.
With COVID-19 leading to beefed-up sanitation procedures, McCarthy said students have benefited from a real-world lesson about the importance of keeping the cafe tidy.
“We’re working with San Juan Basin Public Health and the Durango Public Library to follow all their guidelines on sanitation and social distancing,” McCarthy said.
Common Grounds, like the library, is open for take-out service.
Customers can drive curbside or walk up to the north end of the library’s lobby, look at the menu through the window and call in their order, then the cafe’s student employees will hand them their order at the lobby’s north-end doors.
The cafe features pastries and sandwiches from Bread and coffee from Desert Sun Coffee Roasters.