WATERFORD — The sound of coffee makers gurgling and blenders whirring filled a room Thursday at Waterford High School.
Coffee grounds turned into flavored lattes while ice, strawberries and other ingredients became thick, pink milkshakes. It was just another day at Wolverine Bean, a student-run coffee shop that operates out of the high school to teach special education students about workplace skills, food service and running a business.
“The idea behind the coffee shop was to provide soft skills and work options to our population,” said Jody Hanson, a special education teacher at Waterford High School, 100 Field Drive. An added benefit is the shop also makes about $50 a month after expenses, she said.
Hanson opened Wolverine Bean this school year after the high school’s special education director, Sandy Asmussen, read about the idea in a professional magazine and heard about some other area schools trying it out, Hanson said.
The shop serves students and staff every school day. Students can stop in before school starts, from 6:45-7:15 a.m. Staff can come in then or can place delivery orders during the first class period by calling or sending an online request, Hanson said.
The coffee shop serves Alterra coffee, lattes, cappuccino, chai tea, homemade hot chocolate, smoothies and some food, like granola bars and cinnamon rolls. Most items cost 50 cents or $1, Hanson said.
The shop is in an old teachers’ lounge updated to include six coffee makers and fun decor, like deep red paint, brightly colored rugs and metal tables and stools. Sign boards list the items available and the daily specials, like Thursday’s peppermint mocha latte.
“The peppermint mocha latte is a favorite of staff. ... If it’s peppermint mocha (special day), we know we’ll have an office order,” said Kyle Schultz, a senior who works the shop. “Cappuccinos are ordered the most by students.”
Schultz often arrives at school at about 6 a.m., more than an hour before classes actually start, in order to help open Wolverine Bean. He pulls himself out of bed and keeps coming at that early hour because it’s good experience for culinary arts, which he plans to study in college, and because it’s “fun working with teachers (and) students and getting to know the people.”
Schultz is one of about 13 special education students who work Wolverine Bean throughout the morning, and get class credit for doing so. The experience has helped those students open up, Hanson said.
“I’ve seen definite development and improvement across the board with every student that’s involved,” she said, mentioning a slew of bettered skills: “working with people, eye contact, pleasant voice, positive hygiene, math skills, independence (and) being able to fulfill their jobs without me telling them, ‘Alright. Now you have to do this.’ ”
On Thursday, Hanson gave few instructions as Schultz and two other students manned the counter and hurriedly made drinks for more than 50 customers.
Freshman Sophia Gomez was among them. She stops by every day, usually for an iced coffee, she said.
“It’s probably the highlight of my morning,” Sophia said. “I see a lot of people in here every day and I’m happy they brought it because it’s easier to wake up in the morning and drag myself out of bed.”