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New Gateway High School cafe offers coffee, lessons

Dillon Carr
| Monday, Feb. 5, 2018, 11:20 p.m.
Kerri Webster waits on Connor McCune in the new Gateway High School cafe.
Lillian DeDomenic | For the Tribune-Review
Kerri Webster waits on Connor McCune in the new Gateway High School cafe.
Gateway High School's cafe recently opened for students and staff.
Lillian Dedomenic | For the Tribune-Review
Gateway High School's cafe recently opened for students and staff.

Kerri Webster's favorite drink to prepare at her high school's cafe is a classic: hot chocolate.

The 18-year-old Gateway High School student with special needs works at the cafe that was recently upgraded and moved from the library to its own central spot in a former classroom. The shop that teaches students such as Webster vocational skills recently opened its doors to students and staff.

When asked what her job entails, Webster first said: “Smiling at customers.” She then described other roles, like sorting money in the cash register, taking and filling orders.

That's what she was doing for students lined up at the café's cash register one Friday morning in early February.

“Here you go,” she said, handing a student change for the iced coffee he had ordered. “Next.”

She said she hopes her newly learned skills will help her fulfill her goal of becoming a waitress at Red Robin after graduation.

The café opened in November 2015 after the district's Parent Teacher Organization donated $500 to get it started. The district then received a $5,300 block grant to purchase the coffee and cappuccino makers, a countertop and additional electrical wiring.

The school board approved a $25,000 donation from Spitzer Toyota in January that helped pay for the cafe's new digs and seating area. The renovation included wooden floors, new equipment and a revamped entrance.

“It's a great program to teach these students life skills going forward,” Spitzer General Manager Robert Thomasson said.

Pete Murphy, the high school's principal, said the cafe has been a hit at the school.

“It benefits everyone … this is providing a great opportunity for students who might not have college in their future,” Murphy said.

Damanpreet Singh, 17, said he is learning about rules as a cafe worker.

“The rules … staying at my station and no phones,” he said.

Another rule limits student customers to only two caffeinated drinks per day. The cafe offers hot or cold coffee and tea priced at $1 or $1.25.

There are currently 22 out of the high school's roughly 200 special needs students who work the cafe's two shifts, said Megan Petruska, the district's transition coordinator.

She said the school is finding ways to get more students involved by collaborating with the high school's business course and getting more to work at the shop's merchandise and school supplies counter when it opens in the fall. All the profits from the cafe and the future retail space will help support the program.

A customer walking away from the counter praised the crew on duty in the shop.

“They're all very polite, and they learn our names,” said 10th-grader Alex Glenwright.

Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-871-2325, or via Twitter @dillonswriting.

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