School coffee shop project brews up teaching moments

ARLINGTON -- It's after 10 a.m. Wednesday, and the aroma of fresh-brewed coffee arrives at the attendance office of Ferguson Junior High School, care of eighth-grader David Rodriguez.

Attendance clerk Yohana Amaro is jubilant as she takes the cup, handing over $1 and a perky "Thank you!"

"It's great. It's strong," Amaro said. "And the lattes -- oh my goodness, they are awesome."

The office didn't send Rodriguez out for coffee. He works just down the hall at The Daily Grind, a hands-on business experiment that started this month in the Life and Career Management classroom.

In second and sixth periods, students brew coffee in the classroom's kitchen and take orders from teachers and other employees online at the Grind's Web page within the school district website,

Teachers note the kinds and amounts of sweetener and flavored cream they want in their coffee. Or they might prefer hot chocolate made from scratch, or select from various flavors of hot tea, or a latte, or hot cider.

And it gets delivered.

Mutual benefits

"I've looked for the last couple of years for something I could do with the kids," said Jenita Davidson, who teaches the class and "owns" The Daily Grind. She thought about having them make tote bags to sell.

"Then another teacher here at school said, 'How about coffee?'" Davidson said. "We have it at the teachers lounge, but it tends to sit on the burner for a long time."

Amaro has had a recent beef with the coffee.

"They were starting to make it real weak," she said. "I told [Davidson], 'Go for it! You've got to do it!'"

Amaro is one of the dozen or so regular customers, many of whom place orders for both periods. The operation takes a few walk-in orders as well.

"I like it," said eighth-grader Tadeja Perkins. "When you get a real job, you have to understand procedures like getting an order right and how to run a business."

Learning responsibility

The project provides some real-world applications for math and science, and it brings home the concept of responsibilities with consequences.

"I'm their employer, and if they don't do something, they're going to get written up," Davidson said. "Three times and you're fired. They're shocked by that."

She added, though, "I'm not going to kick them out of school."

Davidson rotates students daily into the coffee shop's five job slots, leaving the rest of the class busied with other work.

Life and Career Management teaches cooking and nutrition, but its focus is mostly an introduction to career choices and skills like money management. Davidson said the coffee shop project is something that can help junior high students connect with school.

"Starting around seventh or eighth grade, the idea of school is not as attractive to them," she said. "They think, 'Here's my life, and there's school, and they don't cross over.'"

For Rodriguez, the project already has him pondering his work interests.

"Delivery is best," he said. "I just don't see myself making stuff. I'm not really a good maker. I'd rather deal with money."

Robert Cadwallader,