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Running a Coffee Cafe in Class Offers So Many Lessons for Students

Coffee shopAt 9 a.m. on certain Wednesday mornings, the students in Maria Goldman’s room “perk up” because they know it is coffee day and time for them to go to work. For the next 40 minutes, they’ll be taking orders, making change and sending their customers out the door with a to-go cup of coffee, tea or hot chocolate.

The class started a coffee café selling hot beverages to staff several times a month. Instead of Wednesday morning DEAR time (drop everything and read), these students are setting up the sign in the hallway, putting on their aprons and plastic gloves, filling up the Keurig machines with water, setting out cups, lids, creamer and sugar, and counting change.

On the days it operates, the café draws a dedicated stream of new and repeat customers from the staff at the middle school and the district office. All beverages are $1.50 and only staff can purchase.

The Amherst Central Perk coffee shop was the brainchild of Mrs. Goldman to provide her sixth- to eighth-grade special education students with an opportunity to learn about running a business, various jobs, customer service and communication skills. Since the pandemic put a hold on work-study programs outside of the classroom, this project has shown the students what goes into running a business and how to be a good employee.

“In previous years, we have had students do work study programs at Anderson’s and TJ Maxx, but due to safety concerns amid the pandemic, it was wiser to discontinue that for now,” said Mrs. Goldman. “The coffee shop is the perfect solution to allow the students to gain those skills right here at school.”

The students involved are Joey Agostino, Kayden Braughler, Ameer Dawood, Max Gavigan, Gabe Harrison, Tacy Szafranski and Travis Weisner. 

Watch the Spectrum News 1-31-22 Feature Story on the AMS Coffee Cafe
Read the Amherst Bee 2-23-22 Feature Article

Proceeds are put right back into the business to purchase supplies. After the Spectrum News feature was aired in January 2022, Tim Horton's coffee company sent the school a donation of K cups and bags of regular coffee. They used the K cups for their customers and sold $1 tickets for a chance to win a bag of coffee. During the 2021-22 school year, they raised $616.62 to donate to the Tiger’s Den Food Pantry that serves district families and operates in partnership with St. Paul’s Lutheran Church. 

“The students are definitely improving in their ability to do their jobs correctly and well. They are moving faster and with more confidence each week. The students are using their communication skills, eye contact, functional money skills and listening skills every time they work at the coffee shop in an environment with trusted teachers and staff cheering them on,” said Mrs. Goldman. 

staff with cupsThey even created merchandise; a white coffee cup with a painted image of an orange mug. The students painted the mugs in art class and the art teacher fired them in the kiln. With a price of $5, the mugs sold out in just one morning.

Seventh-grader Ameer Dawood often has the role of cashier and greets each customer with the phrase, “Hello, how can I help with your beautiful morning?” His salesmanship helped them sell out their coffee mug “merch”. He also tells customers about the savings they can realize if they purchase a $7 punch card.

It’s an assembly line process and, depending on the order, cups are marked with a “C” or “T” or “HC” and placed in line to be filled. One Keurig is dedicated to hot chocolate, one for hot water and two for coffee. Each machine is manned by a different student. Others are runners, taking the cups from the machines to the customer. It’s a streamlined operation and they all work together so a customer does not wait long for their order. They all share in the jobs and they rotate from being the Barista to being the support staff.

Mrs. Goldman even started an Employee of the Week and that student’s photo is displayed right near the order area.

coffee cafe in classroomThe cafe is also motivating for staff for a couple of reasons; it represents something new that's been added during a pandemic, gives them a chance to meet students they might not have in their class and it's an uplifting way to start the day.

"I love going to the coffee shop because it's a positive and uplifting way to start my day!" said David Mansfield, a special education science teacher at the middle school. "The students are gaining valuable life experience that can help them obtain employment in the future.  It's also a great way for them to meet teachers that they may not see on a regular basis."

"I love stepping into the coffee shop every Wednesday morning! Mrs.Goldman's students always greet their guests with a cheerful hello and it truly brightens my day," said Christina Klein, middle school art teacher. "It's something that I look forward to each week! With our district unable to take field trips this year, the cafe has been a creative way to boost morale and build school community connections, all while bringing valuable experiences to our AMS students. It allows Mrs. Goldman's class a chance to practice conversation while using eye contact, making change for customers, and other valuable skills."

“The biggest surprise for me, other than the lines out the door, is the teamwork among the kids,” said Mrs. Goldman. “These are kids who don't typically initiate conversations with others and now they are talking to each other, helping one another and expressing their needs to get the orders filled. It's putting all of their hard work in speech and the classroom to real world use!”

For the very last coffee Wednesday in June, the students took preorders and delivered coffee, iced coffee, hot chocolate and donut orders on a coffee cart to district office staff and teachers within the middle school building.

coffee cart  coffee cart with students