Serving Smiles with a Side of Coffee

Friday mornings are a little extra special at Mill Creek Middle School, Nolensville! The school’s concession stand turns out like a weekend celebration with happy faces. Young students are seen busy serving coffee and pastries with smiles while teachers enjoy their morning treats. 

“I love being a part of it, and I am super happy,” shared a student who works at the cafe.” “I am learning new things each day of my work.” 

The Maverick Café is an initiative by the school’s teachers, Katie Shyamsunder and Meghan Newell; the vision is to help students learn practical skills they would use as they grow. Katie and Meghan want to make sure the workspace is made inclusive, and they empower students to learn job skills and employability skills.

“Meghan Newell and I opened The Maverick in the Fall of 2021. Francine Gehring, one of the parents, approached us with the idea of serving coffee to our staff through a business executed with the help of our students,” said Katie Shyamsunder, a student support services teacher at Mill Creek. “Our students are learning valuable life skills that they will continue to develop as they transition to Nolensville High School and beyond.” The teachers worked together with the administration to build and implement the coffee shop. 

The students learn to take inventory of the supplies, compare prices, and order what is needed for the coffee service every Friday. 

“Staff purchases punch cards we keep on file in amounts up to $20. They receive an email weekly with a Google Form they fill out and send to us, letting us know their order for the week and where they would like it delivered,” Katie mentioned. 

The concession stand is more like a learning space for students. Their current teacher, Remi Connolly, reiterates the math skills students need in the classroom as the team measures the correct amount of coffee and water while preparing the orders. The cafe has a total of 20 students, and every Friday, six of them sign up for the work. 

“It is all volunteering. The funds go into an account to be used for instructional purposes and put back into the business (supplies),” Katie said. 

The day of the service starts early. Katie arrives around 6:15 every Friday to ensure they have plenty of time for the coffee to percolate and be hot enough for the 7 to 8 am service time. The students set up in the hub area, counting the cups and lids needed. They also set up different creamers, stirs, coffee syrups, and other customizable items to make that perfect cup of coffee. Some students greet the customers, pulling their cards to mark off what they pick up for the day. Other students pour coffee, make the signature drink, the Muddy Maverick, or prepare hot tea.

“Delivering the orders not only brings convenience to those teachers and staff but it gives us an opportunity to practice those social skills. It brings so much joy to see the growth in our students’ confidence,” Katie shared. “They are so proud to be a part of something so great.” The Mill Creek teachers support and encourage students to learn and enhance essential skills. 

Students who work at the cafe are happy with what they’re learning every week. “Our teachers teach us unique things, we love what we are taught every time, and we have a lot of fun, too,” one of the volunteers shared. 

The initiative taken by Mill Creek Middle School teachers is appreciated in the community. Community people see this as an important step towards student empowerment. Local volunteers and businesses also have contributed to making The Maverick Café a successful cafe run by students. “I’d also like to thank Mama’s Java for their donation to the Maverick Café. We wouldn’t be able to deliver such a great cup of coffee without their delicious coffee,” Katie said. 

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