Skip to content

'People say we're better than Starbucks'

Coffee program helps students with disabilities get plugged into Byrne Creek Secondary School community

It’s 1 p.m. at Byrne Creek Community School, and the Access Program coffee team is ready to go.

Wearing aprons and personalized nametags, they fan out across the school carrying clipboards and pens.

They are the school’s purveyors of fine coffees and juices.

For a mere $2, staff can place an order with them for a first-rate latte, cappuccino, mocha or freshly juiced fruit and vegetable drink.

“Many people say we’re better than Starbucks,” says access teacher Leigh Taylor-Gibbs.

Taylor-Gibbs launched the service about nine years ago when she came to the school to start an inclusion class for students with so-called “low incidence” disabilities – less common disabilities like Down syndrome, autism and cerebral palsy.

Her job was to find a way to teach students numeracy, literacy and life skills while integrating them into the life of the school.

Sometime before her tenure, someone had donated an espresso machine to the school, so Taylor-Gibbs suggested a coffee program.

“I put myself through college working as a gardener and a waitress,” she says, “and in the restaurants that I worked at back in the day you had to know how to make a cappuccino with a pretty standard machine.”


Today, Ricky Parmar and Andrew Trebunski make the rounds with education assistant Cynthia Picker, taking orders and making change.

Asked what he likes about the program, Ricky says he likes writing orders on his clipboard, collecting the empty mugs, and science teacher Darrin Davies.

“Mr. Davies likes to tell jokes,” Ricky says.

Davies doesn’t order an afternoon coffee today, but he’s got a joke locked and loaded.

“What has wheels and flies?” he asks, as the boys go on their way. “A garbage truck!”

“They wouldn’t normally get to meet any of those teachers,” Taylor-Gibbs says of her students. “They’d meet an art teacher and a P.E. teacher, but with this, they meet all the teachers, and the students learn their names too, so they really are included.”

It was Davies who first asked if the coffee team could get nametags so people would know their names.

Now students and staff all around the school greet them by name even when they’re not putting in an order.

“It’s an all-around literacy, numeracy and social-skills program that the school has really cottoned on to,” Taylor-Gibbs says.

Just as important as numeracy and literacy, however, are the independence and sense of belonging the program fosters.

“I think the most rewarding part is when I see the kids six years later, out in the community, and they still have some of these skills and they still have a sense that this was a special place for them,” Taylor-Gibbs says.


This summer, Genius Coffee N’ Espresso Equipment sales manager Daniele Borrelli brought an account to the attention of owner, Eugenio Adiletta.

For years, Byrne Creek’s coffee program had been paying the Burnaby business hefty fees to service its old manual lever espresso machine.

The machine wasn’t designed to be shut off during the summer, so its piston had to be rebuilt every year.

“It was a $300 job every time,” Borrelli says.

With a thumbs up from Adiletta, Borrelli replaced the machine free of charge with a shiny new automatic one worth about $1,200.

He also made an arrangement with his coffee supplier to get Byrne Creek Italian coffee at cost to replace the beans Taylor-Gibbs had been buying at Costco.

“They were drinking bad coffee,” Borrelli says with a laugh.

“They’re very nice people. We know they’re doing this to help the kids in school and they’ve been coming, doing business with us for so long, so we just decided to help them out a little bit.”

Across the border in New Westminster, meanwhile, Hyack Trophies too has refused to accept any more money from the school for supplying the coffee program with nametags.

“It’s a pretty cool program,” says owner/manager Brad Garisto by way of explanation. “The teacher brought in a couple of the students, and it was fantastic.”

“I can’t believe the heart in the community,” Taylor-Gibbs says. “They’ve gone above and beyond to help our program move forward.”


All that support from community-minded businesses – and coffee-drinking teachers – has piled one more benefit onto the heap of the coffee program’s advantages.

It now generates enough revenue to help fund field trips and class activities that wouldn’t be possible otherwise, including annual bus trips and a year-end riverboat cruise.

“A lot of students at this school are quite needy,” Taylor-Gibbs says. “We don’t have a lot of funds for field trips, so this gives us a lot of community opportunities.”

push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks