Sydney Hand is not a morning person. She loves to learn but struggled to do well in her classes at Oak Park High School.
Then the coffee shop came along.
It changed everything.
This semester, the junior, who at one point had fallen behind in credits, has no grade lower than a B and is eager to get up and get to school, not only on time, but early. She is dreaming about her future and hoping for a summer internship.
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“When it comes to being responsible for my coffee shop, I love getting up and thinking, ‘This is how I’m going to start my day. I’m going to start my day smiling at new people. I’m going to just have a good day,’ ” Hand said.
The coffee shop is not a before-school job. It is an in-school opportunity that a growing number of school districts in such cities as Liberty, Olathe, Smithville and Shawnee are embracing as an alternative way to engage students and help them connect with their futures.
In-school coffee shops are not a new concept, but many schools have added them in recent years as an opportunity to tap the skills of students. Coffee delivery straight to the classroom brings more than just a morning boost to students and teachers.
The model includes partnering with local coffee companies and targeting groups of kids who teachers believe would benefit from the extra skills that running a coffee shop offers. In some schools, these are special education students needing basic entry-level vocational skills. The coffee shops have been used as incentive to keep at-risk kids on track in school and at grade level. Other schools used the opportunity to target advanced business and marketing students.
The businesses supporting these partnerships say giving back to the community and teaching about their business is a primary goal — however, the marketing opportunities also allow them to reach a demographic where coffee is popular.
At Shawnee Mission East High School, the in-house coffee shop has become a staple. The school has had a shop for about 10 years. Special education department chairwoman Tamara Fryer said a fellow teacher, who had come to Kansas City from another part of the country, brought the idea for a coffee shop to teach vocational skills to special-education students.
“We wanted the coffee shop because we wanted a place for our special-education students who needed vocational skills to work. It has been a wonderful success,” Fryer said.
The school already had vocational-type opportunities in places like the library, cafeteria and office. But the coffee shop offers a unique opportunity for these students to interact with other people. It also opens up an opportunity for students interested in special education to work as mentors in a cadet teacher program. Cadets get elective credit for helping the special-education students make and deliver coffee. Many, like 15-year-old sophomore Peyton Lindsey, got involved because they want to be teachers.
“I like learning about how people interact, and when I am older, I want to be a special-education teacher. So, now is a good time to learn,” Lindsey said.
Lindsey and fellow sophomore, 17-year-old special-education student Mary Brazeal, deliver coffee together in a coffee cart. Brazeal and Lindsey travel to teacher rooms offering free coffee to the teachers. Brazeal learns how to interact, make the coffee and run the shop.
“This is my first experience for learning how to do a job. I like doing coffee and meeting teachers and seeing friends in the hallway. It’s a very social time. I learn new things and how to deal with people,” Brazeal said.
Brazeal’s mom, Mary Anne Brazeal, says the opportunity has opened up her daughter’s horizons at the school.
“It’s one of our favorite things about Shawnee Mission East,” Mary Anne Brazeal said. “It’s a tremendous amount of support for self-confidence and her ability to be independent and know she can do a job in the regular world.”
The Shawnee Mission East program serves about 15 special-education students and about 10 regular-education cadets. While other businesses in the community offer students on-the-job opportunities off campus, the coffee shop is good preparation for those students who are not yet ready to be off-campus.
The Roasterie has been a partner with Shawnee Mission East since the beginning of the school’s coffee shop venture. The company also produces a special Lancer Blend just for Shawnee Mission East.
Roasterie founder Danny O’Neill says the partnership has been wonderful. He sees special-education students learning entrepreneurship and really understanding the coffee business in a way some people coming out of college are still struggling to grasp.
“These kids in high school are learning everything top to bottom. They are learning revenue and expenses and profit. It is unbelievable what they are learning,” O’Neill said. “That model is a beautiful thing. It’s not about the coffee. It’s really about everything else, and the coffee is a great community-builder and glue.”
O’Neill explains the volume at the shop is high. Some high school coffee shops are doing as many as 400 drinks a day.
Since the startup with Shawnee Mission East, The Roasterie has expanded its partnership with several area high schools. O’Neill says The Roasterie is in North Kansas City’s Winnetonka High School, Liberty High School, Olathe High School, Blue Valley High School and Smithville High School and has plans to expand into the Holden School District next fall.
At Oak Park High School, the in-school coffee shop is just completing its first semester. The school partners with Paris Brothers Mother Earth Coffee company brand, the same company that owns Parisi Coffee.
The high school does not target special-education students; it focuses on students who have a hard time connecting to school.
Assistant Principal Chad Valadez Assistant principal?-call explains he and two teachers in the school’s Academy program, which helps kids who have fallen behind in credits for graduation, heard about the coffee shop at Winnetonka, which targets special-education students. They wondered if it could help provide incentive for kids struggling to find a purpose at school.
“We have a portion of kids who are disengaged in school and not involved with stuff, just disconnected in general,” Valadez said. “We looked at what we could do to not only give those kids a skill set, but also help them learn to be responsible. We landed on the coffee shop.”
Students had to fill out an application and get the position like a real job. Students are able to come in if they have a flex class or an Academy class during the time the coffee shop is open.
“It has been received well, and it is getting people prepared for real-life situations well beyond the classroom walls,” Valadez said.
Deasheaia Hollinger, an 18-year-old senior, got involved because she had a flex class. She found it helped her improve her grades. She doesn’t even drink coffee, but she loves working in the coffee shop.
“It pushes us to not let our grades drop so we can stay in here,” Hollinger said. “We do work and when we don’t have customers, we work on our class work. We’re always talking and laughing. It just makes it feel like another family.”
Sydney Hand says she had no idea how much the coffee shop would help her when she decided to answer the nudging of her two favorite teachers to apply. She now manages the coffee shop and is working with Paris Brothers to get a summer internship.
“I’m astonished at how much has come from me putting in an application just kind of nonchalantly, thinking it would be cool to get out of first block,” Hand said. “Now, it might be able to form my future.”
Paris Brothers, the company that produces the Mother Earth Coffee brand as well as Parisi Coffee, sponsors the Oak Park coffee shop. The company provided equipment, offered tours of the company, trained the students to help them learn how to make a proper cup of coffee and is looking into developing an internship program.
The company worked with Oak Park for several months to develop a program that would meet the school’s needs. Beverage specialist Ericka Cooper says the program has benefits for the company, building name recognition. However, working with the kids has given a lot back to her. Cooper’s parents were involved with education.
“When I go in there, I see that it makes me feel like I’m doing something and helping in the shadows of my dad, because he was always so involved with his students,” Cooper said. “It is definitely out of the box, but it is definitely interesting.”
Paris Brothers has also opened a partnership this year with Blue Valley High School. That in-house coffee shop program targets a third group of students, those in advanced business classes. Many of these students are in DECA, a program designed to teach kids business, finance and entrepreneurship skills.
The coffee shop that opened up this year at Blue Valley High School serves Parisi Coffee. That brand is well established in the area, and students were interested because they were familiar with the local shop.
“Being out in Blue Valley, the Parisi brand was well known,” Cooper said.
The in-house Blue Valley coffee shop is part of a full-year course called Marketing Management. Business educator instructor and DECA adviser Kathy Peres said students in the management course run the coffee shop, as well as the school store.
“Both the coffee shop and the store give students the opportunity to manage every aspect of a business during high school,” Peres said.