Need a cup of joe to get you through first hour? Looking for a place to charge your phone before school starts? Want to catch up on homework for that hybrid class you’re taking?
If you’re a Lakeville North High School student, you can do all of the above in the school’s new cyber café, set to open next month.
The school is set to expand its current “Coffee Stop” counter into a cafe that will serve students and staff a basic selection of drinks and provide a comfy, coffee shop-like atmosphere.
Adding soft seating, high-top tables, pennant lights and rows of outlets are all part of the remodeling project, in addition to new countertops, cabinets and a larger preparation area. Banks of lockers, seldom used anymore, were removed to make space for the café, said principal Marne Berkvam.
The “Coffee Stop” counter, once part of the school’s work-based living program, has existed since 2006. The counter is staffed by students looking for supervised work experience, some who receive special education services.
The expansion was brought on by “looking at how we can provide an atmosphere for 21st-century learning,” said Berkvam.
Students who take hybrid classes, which meet every other day and have an online component, need a place to study, as do some of the students enrolled in LinK12, the district’s online school, she said. “I think the key thing is it’s a safe environment, a welcoming environment and a fun place to go,” she said.
It’s also beneficial for the students who work there, said Christine Parker, who supervises the shop, along with teaching reading to students with special needs and work-readiness classes. It provides on-site, supervised training to students who need a way to learn job skills “to increase the likelihood that they’re going to be able to be successful in an employment situation in the community,” Parker said.
Workers learn about customer service, how to make change and social skills. They also gain a connection to their school, she said.
“We have seen it create a new personality, if you will, and [it has] enabled them to just kind of blossom in terms of their social skills,” Parker said.
Parents of students who have worked there say their kids enjoy the experience, Parker said.
The coffee counter currently has two student employees, but more workers could be added throughout the year, especially if business picks up in the new location just across the cafeteria.
“It’s really laid back,” said Lucas Ince, a senior who works there. “It’s a good start to the morning and just gets me ready for school.”
Michael Pacheco, a sophomore employee, said the atmosphere is fun, plus “I’ve never had a job before, so it’s a great one to start with.”
For their time working, students keep any tips they receive and get a gift card at the end of the quarter, Parker said. The rest of the profits go toward community projects, such as making fleece blankets for a local nonprofit or buying books to give to elementary school kids.
Open the hour before school starts, the shop now serves Starbucks coffee, hot chocolate, and tea, but it may expand its selection, depending on what’s possible in the new space, Parker said.
The shop was initially opened with support from a local Starbucks in Lakeville. The store manager there, Ken Kooyer, donated the coffee brewers and continues to supply free cups, lids and sleeves.
Berkvam said that selling caffeinated beverages at school hasn’t been controversial, in part because so many students already arrive with coffee-shop drinks each morning.
In addition, a good number of customers are staff members, along with the occasional bus driver or substitute teacher who stops by.
“We definitely have our regulars, so there’s a contingency of people who appreciate it,” said Parker. “They give us some pretty positive feedback.”
Senior Cullen Furlong said he often gets hot chocolate there because it’s more convenient than stopping before school. And “it’s cheaper here — it’s a student’s budget.”
Though the coffee shop’s menu and set-up seems simple, there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work that goes into it, said Parker, including picking up supplies, buying coffee and training students.
“It’s definitely a lot of extra time, there’s no doubt about it,” she said. But, “It just feels like you’re doing a great thing.”