By Brenna R. Kelly
It’s 4 a.m. when five Metcalfe County High School students roll into the Old School Café. It will be hours before most of their classmates get out of bed.
But for these students, it’s time to make the doughnuts.
By 6 a.m. the display case at the café, housed in the old Metcalfe County High School cafeteria, will be filled with fresh doughnuts – chocolate, glazed, jelly-filled – and huge cinnamon rolls, all made by students.
When the café closes at 10 a.m., the students will head over to the high school just down the road and go to class.
“They have the option of coming back to school or going home for the day,” said Geneva Scroggy, Metcalfe’s work ready and dual credit adviser. “We have about two out of 20 kids who go home occasionally. The rest come back to school.”
The café provides real-world learning experiences – and a paycheck – for Metcalfe County students and a vital service to the community, said Metcalfe County Superintendent Benny Lile.
Before the café, the closest place to get a fresh doughnut and some coffee was about 20 miles away, he said. Lile and another district employee were driving to a meeting one morning and realized a doughnut shop could be the perfect use for the empty cafeteria building, which was built in 1958.
“There’s lots of nostalgia in that building, so we wanted to do something that the community could use and be proud of,” Lile said. “But the number one thing was to have a good, solid learning experience for the students.”
After two years of planning, the café opened in February. In addition to the doughnut shop, the building also is available for rental and free for class reunions.
The doughnut shop was included in Metcalfe County’s application to become a District of Innovation, a designation from the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) that allows districts to request waivers to some state laws and administrative regulations to improve student learning.
Although the shop did not require a waiver, the idea of providing students with additional opportunities to learn skills that will benefit them in life and career was the central to the district’s plan, said David Cook, director of KDE’s Division of Innovation and Partner Engagement.
“The added benefits of the doughnut shop include making good use of a closed facility and meeting the needs of the community,” he said. “Innovation takes many forms and more and more districts are seeing the value in student enterprises.”
In order to work in the café, students had to apply and interview. They are allowed to work one day a week, make $7.25 an hour and must keep their grades up, Scroggy said.
“If there’s any slacking in their classes, they are not put in the rotation for the next week,” she said. “This has really helped some of them to get their grades up, believe it or not.”
Students must get any missed classwork from their teachers and are not allowed to miss any Advanced Placement classes, she said.
None of the students who initially signed up have quit in the first three months of operation, she said.
“The kids have taken it and they can run it pretty much by themselves,” she said. “And they love it. They enjoy that little paycheck every other week. We come from a low-income community. This has given them a bit of hope, money in their pocket and the ability to see, ‘I can succeed.’”
The café also allows students who are too young to work elsewhere the chance to learn initial job skills and get experience to put on a resume, she said.
“So when they do turn 16 and they want to move on, they’ve at least got some experience already,” she said. “I think it just gives them a sense of purpose and they take pride in it. It’s the talk of the town.”
The café will be open all summer and when school starts in the fall, the doughnut shop will become part of a class. The district had hoped to operate it as a class in the 2016-17 school year, but the doughnuts weren’t quite ready last fall, Lile said.
“We started trying to cook doughnuts in September and we were at the end of January when we had a product that we were ready to say, ‘We can go to market with this doughnut,’” he said. “We had some good doughnuts, but we didn’t have great ones. And we needed great.”
Now that the doughnuts are getting rave reviews, the district is ready to introduce business instruction worth one or two credits, he said.
The students will use the district’s online learning management system to access videos such as TED Talks for the class, he said. Students also will be charged with creating advertising and marketing plans for the café, he said.
The district will receive instructional resources from Real World Scholars, a California-based nonprofit that helps educators create e-commerce sites and provides resources to help teachers bring real-world business ideas to the classroom. Real World Scholars also handles the bakery’s online credit card payment processing, Lile said.
Once the bakery becomes a class, Lile envisions the Old School Café becoming much more a part of the district’s innovation efforts over the coming years. The district is expanding its agriculture program with the addition of new greenhouse, he said. Eventually, Lile would like to see the café serve lunch using vegetables grown by students.
“But we want to move really slowly,” he said, adding that he wants to perfect one thing before starting another. “We didn’t even start doing doughnut holes until a few weeks ago.”
Lile admits the idea of students learning to run a doughnut shop may seem antiquated in an age of technology.
“I’m not about to say that working in a doughnut shop is a skill that these kids need in their future,” he said. “But I do know this, the work ethic, the attention to detail, the problem solving, all of those things are building skills that no matter what they do, whether they go to college, whether they go to tech school, those are quality skills those kids are going to take with them.”
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