Two lanky teenagers quickly pull out coffee cups, check coffee machines and wash their hands. They make sure the machines are turned on and the half and half is ready on the purple counter.
If they run into a problem, they ask Al Denman, a special education teacher who also oversees the teens.
It is lunch time at Cloquet High School. There is a newly opened and student-run coffee shop in a corner of the refurbished media center, where the library used to be. Instead of students whispering quietly, a large group gathers and eats lunch as they talk.
Several students stop by to purchase hot chocolate or a cup of coffee.
After a homeroom competition, the overwhelming winning name for the coffee shop was "Java Jacks."
Seven students work at the small shop, which sells French vanilla, English toffee and black coffee and hot chocolate for $1 a cup. French vanilla is the favorite so far.
The shop is open from 7:45-8:25 a.m. and noon to 1 p.m. on school days. Java Jacks is open to everyone in the school. Visitors are also welcome after they check in at the main office.
The students set up the work schedule and are in charge of finding a replacement if they can't make their shift.
While some students have had prior work experience, others have not.
Logan Bock, a senior, is the manager. Logan Antus, also a senior, has had a few jobs outside of Java Jacks, while this is the first job experience for fellow senior Cheyenne Carlson.
“Working here gets me job experience. Serving helps me with customer service and looks good on a job resume,” Antus said.
“Gaining work experience is a critical part of getting students ready for life after school,” Denman said. “We have limited options for a lot of people. This is an opportunity to teach kids job skills so the have something to put on a resume or job application. Interpersonal skills, communication skills — all of those critical skills they just don't get in the classroom — you have to actually do it.”
He said it’s a great opportunity for special needs students to gain confidence along with real-life job experience before they search for a job.
Christopher Starbuck St. John, a junior, said he enjoys the interaction with customers. He also works in the Journey Garden at Fond du Lac Ojibwe School in the summer.
When he heard there was an opening at the coffee shop he jumped at the opportunity.
“I took this opportunity to sharpen my work skills for when I get a job in the future,” St. John said.
The students estimate they sell an average of about 40 cups during the lunch hour.
The students receive one-fourth of a credit each quarter they work at the shop.
Denman is excited about the job experience opportunities for the students and hopes to see more in the future.
“Getting the job experience in the high school will pay off,” Denman said. “The students learn basic skills like handling money, shared accountability and problem solving.
The shop plans to have seasonal offerings such as pumpkin spice and peppermint, as well as iced coffee and possibly tea. Once they get settled in and see what students are interested in they hope to serve simple food items such as breakfast sandwiches.
“We are making a little bit of a profit,” Antus said.