Students learn, earn on school’s beverage truck

Shisselle Ortega passes Mario Saldivar a cup of hot coffee for a customer Tuesday as the group works together to fill orders at the Falcon Express food truck outside Los Fresnos High School. The food truck is part of a series of classes offered to Special Education students that provides experience in the food service industry. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

LOS FRESNOS — By all accounts, Tuesday was a perfect day for hot chocolate.

With temperatures hovering in the 40s the Falcon Express beverage truck was on hand at Los Fresnos High School selling the cold-weather favorite among its other offerings to students, faculty and staff before school and during lunch.

New this year, the Falcon Express is paired with three Career and Technical Education courses for special education students that teach skills applicable to the food service industry. One aim is that after graduation they will be able to secure employment at restaurants and other food service industry businesses.

The teacher is Galyn Thomae, who is certified both as a CTE and special education teacher.

The students have picked up the ins and outs of customer service as the year has gone along, taking orders and making change, ordering supplies and helping make bank deposits with the proceeds, Thomae said.

Student Erika Moreno smiles as she takes a customer’s order through the window Tuesday while working at the Falcon Express food truck outside Los Fresnos High School.(Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

“They have done amazing things, they’re amazing kids,” Thomae said. “They worked the football game the other night and they were awesome. They kept this truck flowing. They sold over 400 cups of coffee and hot chocolate to students and parents. This is our mobile classroom.”

Three CTE core courses are associated with the Falcon Express, food processing, food technology and safety, and principles of agriculture. These provide a skill set for them and a link to the real-world workplace, Thomae said.

“We hope it leads to productive, fantastic lives,” she said. “They have a blast” working on the truck.

The beverage list includes hot coffee, mocha iced coffee, sweet tea, and hibiscus/pomegranate tea for $1 each. Breakfast bars also are sold for 50 cents. The students taste tested all of the items before deciding on ingredients and amounts.

Thomae added that the students also learn shopping, community and interpersonal skills.

Seniors Violet Milton and Julie Altamirano grab hot chocolates during their lunch Tuesday at the Falcon Express food truck outside Los Fresnos High School.(Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

“Every two weeks we take them out to restaurants and stores with the money they’ve earned,” she said. Students work on a token and wages system where their time, effort and participation are rewarded by earning gift cards.

The students will do the shopping for an upcoming Thanksgiving feast in which they will plan the menu, make the purchases, prepare and serve the meal to the 40 students in the Alternative Learning Unit.

Ten students make up the Falcon Express crew. Four of them get to school by 7 to get the unit up and running.

Junior Erika Moreno said the class has helped her socially with her friends and teachers as well as with learning to take orders and count money.

“At first I didn’t, but now I know what to do,” she said.

Thomae said Erika is one of the students who helps count the money and prepare bank deposits.

“Once they learn a skill they teach each other. It all goes back to teamwork,” she said.

glong@brownsvilleherald.com