Teachers work hard. Often they get to campus early, hours before their students, sometimes forgetting breakfast or even that essential first, second or third cup of coffee.
That is why students in Dawn Zinger Corley’s customer service class have decided to start their own café on campus.
The Cougar Corner Café, which the students in the first period class will operate entirely on their own, with little managerial assistance from Corley, will serve teachers and other faculty on the Clovis High School campus who need that extra jolt of caffeine in the morning.
While providing a great service to Clovis High staff who forget their coffee and don’t have time to wait in a Starbucks line, the students will also be learning skills needed to work in the food service and retail industries. They’ll, of course, get the barista skills of making different coffee mixes, but that’s not all. They will learn how to work a cash register, how to organize inventory, how to track expenses and revenue and how to interact with customers.
“Our students are here to learn job skills and how to run their own business,” Corley said. “They are starting this business from the ground up—ordering equipment, doing fundraising and creating their own mission statement that include what makes a great employee and their own rules. They even created their own logo, designed by my T.A. John Davies. They also named the café by vote. They are learning not only how to start and run a business but also the hands-on soft skills, like showing up on time and maintaining good hygiene.”
The students in Corley’s class are on the non-diploma track, so after earning a certificate of completion from high school, the students will go straight into the job force, so having the work experience of running the Cougar Corner Café will help set them apart from others who may have no experience out of high school.
“To compete in the job force, they need to have some employable skills so having a customer service class is something staff decided we needed here on campus to give them real world experience and help them build their resumes,” Corley said. “There are grants we have to get six or seven kids jobs but unfortunately, even with the grant students are not as successful as they could be because they don’t have the skills. They are our kids and after four years, you are emotionally attached and when you think of them being 21 or 22 out there in the real world, it makes you feel better knowing they have the skills and that they are successful and are being well received in the community working at Vons or at Tractor Supply or another store.”
While some students, Corley said, struggle with the social aspects and need to learn how to communicate with customers, she said most of the students are most concerned with learning how to properly use the cash register and make correct change.
“They know money is important to people so they want to make sure they don’t give the wrong change,” Corley said. “They need the experience so they know they can do it and their confidence will go up.”
In addition to learning skills, students will also earn food-handling certificates before the coffee shop even opens—certificates each student would need before going into the food service industry.
“Everyone in food service needs a food handling certificate so it’s good that our students will already have this when they go to look for a job,” Corley said.
Corley said the class has already received a lot of support from staff and the community. At the end of September, the class had already raised $600, half of what is needed to purchase all the supplies needed to launch the business. The class also received several non-monetary donations. Some individuals donated Keurigs and other coffee machines, while the school donated a space in the ticket booth for students to work out of, as well as two carts students can use to deliver coffee to classrooms throughout campus. Corley’s supervisor also donated a cash register.
The community has also jumped onboard. One Clark Intermediate parent owns Earthly Arts Store, which makes metal signs, and he agreed to create a large metal version of the Cougar Corner Café logo to place on the ticket booth, as well as two smaller metal logos to put on the coffee carts. Artworkz, a screen-printing and embroidery shop in Clovis, has also offered to make uniforms and aprons for the students.
As the grand opening date inches closer, Corley said her students are getting more and more excited. Already students are learning how to make the hot coffee and cold brew that will be offered on the menu, and most also understand the soft skills it’s going to take to make customers happy so they keep coming back.
Student Roman Solorzano said it’s going to be really important to get the timing down right and also to remember to greet customers with a smile.
“We have to work on delivery and how the system will work,” Solorzano said. “We need to show our customers respect and time wise, we can’t let one coffee sit for like 15 minutes and that person wait for 20 minutes. We have to keep it moving like a conveyor belt, keep it going and keep our customers happy and also make sure we give them that smile. At Starbucks, they always greet you with a smile and socialize with you and we want to do that too. Other skills we will learn are organizing, speaking clearly, counting money and other skills needed to work at a business like Starbucks.”
Ruthie Nelson said another thing she and her classmates need to be cautious of is safety.
“If it’s not safe, we have to remake it again,” Nelson said. “We don’t want people to be like ‘oh my gosh, where is my coffee?’ but accidents happen. My phone might ring and I try to answer and spill the coffee and that’s not safe so it has to be redone. Safety is most important.”
To start, Corley said the Cougar Corner Café will just serve coffees, lattes and cold brew. Students in another class will also be contributing some baked goods that will also be sold out of the shop. In the future, Corley said they might add items like the protein shakes from Costco to the menu. When temperatures heat up again, Corley said the class has also talked about making frozen lemonade. Right now, though, they are going to keep things simple with just a few coffee and pastry choices.
All the money raised through the Cougar Corner Café will be funneled through the Cougar Foundation and once the café starts seeing a profit, Corley says students will be given something that resembles a paycheck
“We’re hoping by January we’ll have enough influx that one of our cabinets will have items that students can buy with their paychecks, so aside from job experience, they’ll also be able to get a paycheck and they will write checks for their fictitious apartments and use the extra for things they want to buy, at real cost prices so they can see how much things really cost,” Corley said.