Seahorse Cafe opens new opportunities

Seahorse Cafe Photo: Lily Young

Seahorse Cafe Photo: Lily Young

Phoebe Spence, Staff Writer

Upon first entering the Seahorse Cafe in room 154 at dtBHS, one is immediately welcomed by the smells of fresh coffee and donuts ready to be eaten. A sign in bright blue bubble letters hangs behind the counter and warm fairy lights frame the mall-turned classroom-turned cafe, as students serve the waiting customers. 

The cafe is staffed by neurodivergent students taking ‘Life Skills Math’, which is a new combined math, science, and social studies class at BHS. On Thursday mornings, students run the small business, selling coffee and pastries to admin and teachers and learning the skills necessary to work in other cafes and businesses. 

“I just love trying to help out other people to work and deliver coffee,” Shakira Luman ‘25, a student in the class, said.

Teachers and students learn from each other.

— Juno Kelleher ’25

BHS teachers Josephina Austin and James Helak opened the cafe in September. 

“My goal is to run this as a vocational experience for students, so that they are working on their transition skills and learning to work in a job environment,” co-founder Josephina Austin said. “[Students can learn skills like] running a cash register, greeting people, using communication and work skills.”

Some of the students staffing the cafe use an iPad to assist communication with their customers. 

“Learning how to use your device in a real life situation,” Austin said. “I mean, it’s scary. You don’t have a voice and you have to learn how to use a voice from a different tool. That’s scary and different and incredibly brave.”

The cafe has created new learning opportunities for students not possible in a normal class setting.

“Teachers and students learn from each other,” Juno Kelleher ’25 said.

Austin and Helak began working to open the new cafe earlier this summer. Following a large donation from Donors Choose, they were able to put their ideas into action. 

“It was amazing,” Austin said, “the whole [project] was funded in one week.” 

Alongside the actual process of running the cafe, Helak and Austin also teach students the mathematical components of running a business.

“We’re really just trying to give the students an opportunity to interact with other students that they haven’t had a chance to interact with on a regular basis,” Helak said. “I hope that the students get a more rich experience with their math class rather than just doing worksheets.  

Through the Seahorse Cafe, Helak hopes to connect the neurodivergent students to the greater school community. 

“[It’s important to have] the entire school interact as a group instead of secluding some parts of our population,” Helak said.