Oxford Public Schools


Program Summary: Project COFFEE (Co-Operative Federation for Educational Experience) was created in 1979 with the purpose of meeting the academic, occupational, social, emotional, and employability needs of high school students considered significantly at-risk of dropping out or becoming involved with the juvenile justice system. It is an alternative occupational education program that integrates academic and vocational instruction to increase the likelihood that participants will complete high school (diploma not GED) and obtain employment. Over 75% of participants have or have had IEPs. Most students are between ages 16 and 19.

Students with disabilities (most of whom have learning disabilities, ADHD, mental health problems, behavior problems, and/or chemical health problems) receive ongoing support from program staff that has training and expertise in hidden disabilities and other types of disabilities from professionals in the community. Project COFFEE has had students with sensory disabilities (namely hearing loss and vision loss) but most students with physical disabilities access other programs that are less separated from other high school programs.

Students are admitted to the program after record reviews and interviews. The program has room for up to 70 students and usually admits around 20 new students each year. The program also has a small middle-school component called Project JOBS (Joining Occupational and Basic Skills) that tries to “catch” students with behavioral or emotional problems to re-engage them in school; Project JOBS serves 20 students each year.

Program Structure/Design: This model was designed to prevent school dropout by providing services addressing students’ academic, social, emotional, and occupational needs. The program seeks to balance cognitive achievement, skills training, and occupational education with services meant to provide for students’ developmental needs. Project COFFEE offers individualized instruction structured as a half day of academic coursework and a half day of occupational instruction. The program has five main components: academic, life-coping skills, occupational, guidance and counseling, and physical education.

Project COFFEE has its own separate facility where participants attend classes together. The program maintains a low student-to-teacher ratio (no more than eight to ten students in each class) allowing for more individualized instruction, particularly in basic skills. As part of the occupational component, students receive skills training in the classroom as well as a work-study placement that begins during their first year of the program and continues until graduation.

For the guidance and counseling component of the program, participants meet for individual and group counseling sessions to discuss social, emotional, academic, and career planning issues. The physical education component consists of different activities each week, sometimes on school grounds and other times in community facilities. The individualized instruction, the emphasis on the occupational component, and the focus on credits needed for graduation help keep students from dropping out of school.

States of Operation: MA

Youth Targeted:
• Out-of-school youth
• In-school youth
• Runaway and homeless youth
• Youth with disabilities
• Pregnant or parenting youth
• Youth offenders
• Youth in foster care or aging out
• Rural youth
• Urban youth
• Minority youth

ODEP Funded: No
Profile Year: 2007


School-Based Preparatory Experiences: The academic component of Project COFFEE emphasizes individualized instruction with a focus on basic skills that parallel the graduation requirements of each student’s home district. The program has been very successful in meeting the primary academic goal of each participant earning a regular diploma (see below for outcome data). Academic preparation also connects directly with vocational preparation and a “survival skills” component that addresses self-esteem, conflict resolution, and group work.

Career Preparation and Work-Based Learning Experiences: The occupational component is comprised of skills training, both in the classroom and at work sites, in the areas of construction, software technology, horticulture and grounds management, and a new area, small engine repair. Students choose a concentration and generally stay in the area for as long as they are in the program (up to four years). Work-based experiences occur in many settings. Students have worked in housing construction, in home repair and maintenance, in offices of local companies, in the school districts’ buildings and grounds, in a local summer camp, and in Project COFFEE’s working greenhouse.

One full-time staff member is responsible for coordinating work-study placements. She is in regular contact with many area businesses, which regularly provide projects, project ideas, and materials for use in classroom instruction.

Long-term relationships with area employers have led to reserved work-study placements (that can be used year after year) and to after-school part-time employment for students. The program is also connected to three Massachusetts Department of Employment and Training offices (One-Stops) that provide additional employment services to individual youth who need them.


Management: At present, 21 school districts in central Massachusetts refer students to the program. The districts pay “tuition” for each student and maintain regular communication with program staff. Follow-up services in the home district (for example, for students leaving the program) are ensured. The program staff also works closely with the Department of Social Services, the Division of Youth Services, the Department of Mental Health, the courts, probation officers, and other officials or service providers, and collaborative enterprises exist within local and regional communities.


Data: Four longitudinal studies examined Project COFFEE during the 1990s. In addition, Project COFFEE was included in a government-funded investigation of programs using evidence-based dropout prevention methods. In the government investigation, seven sites replicated Project COFFEE. Overall, results showed that there was a positive impact on dropout prevention as well as positive changes in students’ academic achievement.

In 2000, the Bay State Skills Corporation, now known as the Commonwealth Corporation, did an independent evaluation of the effectiveness of Project COFFEE. Like previous studies, Bay State Skills found that the program was effective in the following areas:

  • in focusing on the varied needs of individual students,
  • in collaborating and communicating with home school districts and other partnering agencies
  • in providing a hands-on approach to vocational training,
  • in working with at-risk youth facing multiple barriers to success, and
  • in keeping a high percentage of students in program long enough to graduate from high school.

Guidance Reports 2001-2004

Project COFFEE and Project JOBS
2001-2002 2002-2003 2003-2004
Total Number of Students Served 91 85 100
Project JOBS 20 15 14
Project COFFEE 71 70 86
Number receiving high school diploma 8 14 12
Number of students who were still in the program in June (not counting graduates) 69 61 75
Number of seniors taking and passing
State Tests in English and Language Arts NA NA 13 out of 13
State Tests in Mathematics NA NA 12 out of 13
Number of students involved in the criminal justice system 48 36 50
Number of students who spent part of school year in residential program 6 11 10
Number of students who had IEPs 84 75+ 79
Number of students on prescription medication NA NA 45+

Third-Party Documentation:

Four longitudinal studies have examined Project COFFEE since 1989. In addition, Project COFFEE was included in a government-funded investigation of programs using evidence-based dropout prevention methods. In the government investigation, seven sites replicated Project COFFEE. Overall, results showed that there was some impact on dropout prevention as well as positive changes in students’ academic achievement.
In addition, Project Coffee has been featured in the following two publications:

  • Hayward, B. J., & Tallmadge, G. K. (1995). “Strategies for keeping kids in school: Evaluation of dropout prevention and reentry projects in vocational education.” Washington DC: US Government Printing Office.
  • Carty, K. (1996, April). “Project COFFEE is still considered a model.” Boston, MA: Massachusetts Municipal Association. Retrieved December 17, 2003, from MMA.org.


Organization Name: Oxford Public Schools
Organization Director: David Nugent
Program Name: Project COFFEE (Co-Operative Federation for Educational Experiences)
Street Address: 493 Main Street
City: Oxford
State: MA
Website: http://oxps.org/NEW%20COFFEE%20II/newcoffee.htm


Contact Person: David Nugent
Contact E-mail: dnugent@oxps.org