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November 8, 2012

Students learn from running store and café

By Michelle Miller
Cooperstown Crier

---- — Milford

There is a hands-on approach to learning going on in room 308 at Milford Central School. 

Student Ryan Carlisle says he is being taught how to earn and save money, how to keep things organized and manage inventory as well as make coffee among other skills. 

“I like this kind of learning as opposed to sitting in a classroom and learning from a textbook,” he said. 

Students who were being sent to the Otsego Northern Catskill Board of Cooperative Education Services as part of the Career Pathways program are now being educated at MCS. According to licensed teaching assistant Lori Henry, she has been focusing on job-training skills with the non-traditional students, while teachers Robin Bush and Nancy Wilber have been providing the academic education the students need. 

Henry said she has been teaching the business career prep class for two years, but it has taken on a new spin this year. She and the students have opened a store and cafe that is open during the school day. 

Along with having coffee and other specialty drinks available at the store, students also sell from a cart. They have been selling flavored coffees, frozen hot chocolate, smoothies and Italian sodas to students in ninth- through 12th- grade and MCS teachers and staff for two years. 

“They will deliver to classrooms and study halls if teachers allow it,” Henry said. 

The goal, at first, was to get some of our students to integrate with other students, she said. It also provided a fun way to teach math, she added.

“Last year we went to a variety of job sites such as the The Cheese Factory, Brewery Ommegang and McDonalds, but we felt starting a store here was a better fit for the students we have at this time,” Henry said. 

The store offers a variety of items such as school supplies, deodorant, bags, clothing, homemade goods, items for babies and seasonal merchandise. 

“We have things like poster board so parents don’t have to get out at night and make that trip all the way to Oneonta or wherever,” she said. 

There is a suggestion box in the room so customers can have an input into what is offered. 

Merchandise is not just purchased to resell, according to Henry. For example, she said a student has some of her photography for sale at the store, a community member has some quilted items and a couple people have things there on consignment. 

“We are always looking to get more locally made stuff,” Henry said. “The store is not just for student shoppers either. People from the community are encouraged to stop in and check out what we have to offer.”

The goal, of course, is to make money. However, the experience is providing so much more, according to Henry. 

She said it teaches the students about inventory control, banking and math skills as well as helping to develop their social skills. 

Henry said running both the coffee cart and store teaches students basic math that is used in everyday life.

They do the banking and keep a ledger, she explained. Henry said the students also separate drink and store sales. 

“I make sure they always count out the money they give back as change,” she said. “We also frequently hold sales so that they can learn about percentages.”

The store opened on Oct. 15 and has pretty much already profited enough to pay for its costs, according to Henry. She said there is no cost to the school. In fact, she said money is given back to the school for its general fund. 

The store also serves as a place for people to donate clothing, coats, boots, gloves and items for those who cannot afford them. If the donations bring in any profit, that money is given to Susie’s Angles, Henry said. 

Susie’s Angles was created after MCS teacher Susie Knodel died about a year ago. Henry said Susie was such a giving person and dedicated a lot of time to helping others. Her husband, Jim, wanted to keep that spirit going in her name, she said. 

The students help separate and organize clothing by size and gender, according to Henry. 

“We hope to have the students organize a swap at the church or cultural center eventually,” she said. 

Students also do work around the school, fill out timesheets and get paid for their efforts, according to Henry. She said the students perform a lot of the work the custodians do not have time for such as cleaning classrooms, recycling and washing windows. Every day, the students clean the cafeteria after lunch, Henry added. 

Location is key to a business’ success, according to Henry, who said she wishes the store had better access. It really is not the ideal place for local people wanting to come in, she said. 

The next step will be to eventually increase inventory and to think about possibly getting an online presence such as a website or something, according to Henry. 

If interested in selling items at the store, contact Henry at 286-3349. The store is open during school hours.