Cyber Cafe and Courtyard offer unique experience

by Sonja J. Keith
Mike Kemp photos

St. Joseph students in Conway are getting “real world” experience in creating and operating a business in a unique place — at school.

St. Joseph teachers Kathleen Hiegel Gueringer and Monica Lieblong came up with the idea last spring for a Cyber Café and Courtyard, which has been led by a student board of directors. The goal was to create a place that would enhance collaborative learning and allow teachers and students a place to experience a digital learning environment both indoors and out.

 

The project represents hours and hours of work by students, parents, alumni and others in the community to convert an existing space at the school.

“The Cyber Café is going really well,” said Ian Martin, who is a sophomore and serves as the senior manager overseeing the staff. He also designs the café apparel that is sold and comes up with product promotion ideas.

“They love it as much as me,” he said of the staff. “They want it to do really well.”

The courtyard space, which was used in the past for events like prom, had accumulated a lot of dirt and was creating a drainage issue. Volunteers spent many hours removing the dirt by hand because the doors to the space were too small for any equipment to fit. “We got the job done,” Martin said. “Then started the real work.”

A drain was added in the courtyard to help prevent future water issues. There is a spacious patio with a canopy, outdoor seating and planters.
Inside, volunteers removed a wall to create one large space where there had been two classrooms before. Desktop computers were also removed.

Lieblong said it was important to keep the integrity, character and tradition of St. Joseph while creating the new spaces. “We took something old and made it new,” Martin added.

In creating the indoor space, students had input on different aspects — from lighting to countertops. “It’s definitely added to the character of the café,” Lieblong said. “Students feel more relaxed and at home but ready to work.”

It took about six months to complete the projects.

Martin said a lot of volunteers were involved in the work. He said a trait of St. Joseph is service to community, and that was demonstrated throughout the project. He said all involved knew they were helping current and future students.

Lieblong described the project as monumental, both inside and outside. She said it created a bridge between past, present and future students. She said the adults involved liked seeing teenagers working to make a difference.

Throughout the project, students have acquired a variety of skills. Lieblong said in particular they’ve learned “planning, planning, planning” and the how to modify and adjust. The café and courtyard provide additional learning opportunities for classes, too.

Students are responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the café and courtyard. The café has 16 student workers who are compensated through café credit, gift cards or service hours. Their work is preparing them for working with different people, meeting a work schedule, etc. They are also gaining experience that they can put on a resume or college application.

St. Joseph is unaware of any other school that has anything like the Cyber Café. “This is all so new. We can’t think of any school that has a business without a sponsor,” Martin said, adding that the business has been created and operated without a template. “We’ve adjusted to what works best for us.”

Students have developed the menu based on sales and interest, including healthy snack options. The café offers hot and cold beverages, smoothies and baked goods. The food is sponsored by Jeff Crowder and the St. Joseph Cafeteria.

The Cyber Café also has its own custom gift cards, which are handy for parents to load for students. Lieblong points out the cards offer an opportunity for students to begin learning about budgeting.

Martin said he has learned how to work with others, and the café has expanded his knowledge on making change happen. “It’s a unique experience.”

Lieblong said other schools have expressed an interest in learning more about the Cyber Café, and St. Joseph is open to visits. “We take that as a compliment,” she said. (For more information, contact Kathleen Gueringer at [email protected] or Monica Lieblong at [email protected])

Martin enjoys most seeing others who like spending time at the café. “I like seeing people enjoy what we’ve worked on for so long.”