Student-run stall at Minds school helps students hone numerical, social skills

Minds student Muhammad Haikal demonstrating latte art at the new cafe as President Halimah Yacob looked on. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION

SINGAPORE - A new stall at the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled (Minds) Woodlands Gardens School, which is run by its students and serves snacks to fellow students during recess, was launched by President Halimah Yacob on Thursday (June 30).

The school's principal, Mr Lawrence Chong, said the stall is the expansion of an initiative - Mathematical Mastery Express or Mama Express for short - that the school started in 2015 to encourage its students to participate in household activities such as shopping for groceries and planning meals to improve their numerical and social skills.

Two senior Minds students man the store every school day where they are guided by a job coach. About 10 students have operated the cafe, named Mama Espresso, since it began operations in 2020. The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic delayed the cafe's opening until Madam Halimah's visit on Thursday.

Mr Chong said: "Participating in initiatives like Mama Express enables students to strengthen their numerical and social skills. The Mama Espresso cafe gives students a platform to conduct transactions with money and also develop their vocabulary."

President Halimah noted in a Facebook post on Thursday that the stall provides Minds students with an authentic learning experience in areas such as retail, service and communication.

She said: "I am heartened to see such initiatives that empower persons with special needs. Let us continue to support them so that they can reach their fullest potential and integrate well into our society."

The school aims to expand the store into a full-fledged cafe in the next two years, and serve food - such as cookies and kueh - once it secures a food and beverage license, according to Mr Chong. The students would also prepare drinks for in-house events at the school.

During her visit, Madam Halimah also spoke with students in the School-to-Work (S2W) Transition Programme, a joint effort by the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Social and Family Development and SG Enable to help students in special education schools transition seamlessly from school to the workplace by facilitating suitable job training for them.

More than 40 students from Minds have taken part in this initiative since 2014. Mr Chong said many of these students signed on for permanent jobs with their employers after completing their work attachment.

One such student is Mr Leong Jia Wei, 20, who is working part-time at Bake Inc as a food processing worker.

After he graduated from Minds Woodlands Gardens School in 2020, he attended employment training at SG Enable for three months to learn work, life and social skills, which helped him prepare for his internship in April 2021.

Mr Leong's mother, Madam Wong Kim Far, 50, said the training and attachment have helped her son with his communication skills.

She said: "Jiawei may not be as expressive (as others). Sometimes it may be hard for him to communicate with the public when he gets nervous or is unfamiliar with the environment. His communication skills have improved significantly since attending Minds school and training at S2W as he has learned to interact with people."

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