The Dutchmen Loft, a coffee shop with café type seating run by the A-C Life Skills students and one of a number of new additions to the Media Center this year, is providing both unique opportunities and a source of excitement for A-C students.
In a project headed by Life Skills teacher Ms. Jackie Mancini, the Loft was created, based on the experiences of other schools, as a way of giving the Life Skills students a means of gaining real-world skills which could be useful for future employment, while also providing a service to A-C students.
“[The Life Skills students learn] functional math skills, functional reading skills, and following directions, which leads to really, you know, kind of pre-employment skills,…[which] hopefully will be able to transfer to a part time job someday,” said Transition Specialist Mrs. Jennifer Grab. Grab can often be seen behind the counter, guiding students through the ins and outs of running their own small business.
“Our hours are from 7:40 until the end of 3rd period, which is at 9:58. We are not currently able to sell before school or over advisories when the cafeteria is open,” Grab said.
“We are not supposed to sell in between class periods either, so students aren’t late to class,” she added with a chuckle.
Although it is not planning to compete with the local Starbucks anytime soon, the Loft boasts a rather impressive menu in spite of its small size.
“We sell hot coffee, iced coffees with a variety of flavors including French Vanilla, Hazelnut, or Chocolate Caramel, hot tea, also a variety of flavors, iced tea, iced mint tea, hot chocolate, bottled water, and a variety of snacks,” Grab said.
However, Grab added that the Loft’s snack selection is limited to packaged items, including white cheddar popcorn, Nutrigrain bars and pretzels, as other items such as baked goods would not fall within the nutritional guidelines for students. However, there are plans to expand the menu in the future.
“We’ve already put extra things on here that we didn’t start out with. We are really just trying to get the ball rolling and start having the students learn skills and do the basics first, but we would really like to expand what we can do here, with regards to drinks as well as the snacks,” she continued.
In addition to expanding the menu itself, Grab said there are plans to provide new services to make the Loft more convenient for students.
“Hopefully, with some of the changes that we’re making…we will be able to take pre-orders from people, so they could pre-order, maybe during their first period class, and pick it up here in between first and second [period]. So, then there’s not the [concern of] waiting for your drink to be made, it’s already made and here for you to pick up,” she said.
In spite of these exciting new plans, students hoping to grab some coffee over their lunch will find themselves out of luck, as the Dutchmen Loft is not open during lunch periods. The Nutrition Group, the company responsible for handling food distribution for the district, has a no-compete clause in its contract, meaning that the Loft cannot sell in a way that would provide direct competition to what is being sold in the cafeteria.
Grab says student feedback has generally been very positive. Middle school students, many of whom visit the Loft during their Enrichment period, seem to enjoy the hot chocolate in particular.
Seventh grader Cassi Clemson said, “I like the hot chocolate. [I think the Dutchmen Loft is] a nice place for people to relax. I like how calm everything is and that they provide [different food and drink] options.”
Eighth grader Michael Parson, who also favors hot chocolate, likes being able to “buy different drinks that aren’t in the vending machines.”
However, 7th grader Eric Rivera declined to offer his opinion on food or drink options, opting instead to complement the hospitality the shop offers.
Sophomore Bethany Lippi saw the Dutchmen Loft in a different light than many of her fellow students.
“I like that it raises money for [The Life Skills students] so they can use the money for [other things],” Lippi said.
Lippi also praised how convenient the Loft is for students.
“If students need a pick-me-up throughout the day, it’s right there and it’s not expensive,” she added.
BY RYAN MONTAGNA