Fillin Cups Makes the Ordinary Extraordinary

Fillin Cups Makes the Ordinary Extraordinary
Posted on 05/05/2017
Coffee Cart

For many, a cup of coffee is part of the everyday, ordinary routine.  But somehow, this story takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary, and what started as a seemingly simple idea to help students boost their work skills and 21st century skills, appears to be brewing into something much larger.

“The idea to start a student-run coffee cart came up a few years ago when a YouTube video circulated amongst the special education teachers and Career Coordinator and Business teacher, Liz Kluver,” said Tracy Johnson, SHS Special Education teacher.  Johnson explained that in the video, a school district highlighted their student-run coffee cart.  Though the teachers loved the idea, it didn’t happen right away.  Always in the back of Johnson’s mind, she said, “It came up again this year, and we took off with it.  My department and administration have been very supportive in getting this started.  It has been a whirlwind, but I am glad it is taking off.  We are getting a good chance to work out some bugs and see how it is going to work, and then next year it will hopefully be even bigger.”  The name, Fillin Cups, is dovetailed from Molly VanderLinden’s student-run, Fillin Station, and all proceeds go to Special Olympics. 

While many worksites in Spencer are completely open to hosting students, allowing them to gain real world, onsite experience, Johnson’s students have diverse needs, and they are not quite prepared to step out into the community.  “The coffee cart gives the students an opportunity to be in our environment and help meet the needs of social concerns or the anxiety of being out in the community from the student’s viewpoint.  We really needed to have a controlled environment for those who aren’t quite ready to be out in the great community that we have,” said Johnson.  “Boosting those work skills and 21st century skills will make them more confident to be out there, so that in the long run, they can be better workers within our community.”

Several of Johnson’s students have fully embraced the initiative.  Though somewhat shy about sharing his involvement, SHS senior, Shawn Clark, has been involved from the beginning, and Johnson said she considers him the main point man.  With gentle nudging from Johnson, Clark did talk a bit about the process, and said, “We walk around with the coffee cart.  One pushes the cart, and the other brings the cup to the teachers.  We help make the coffee, and we work together to collect the money and return change.”  Johnson and her students use a Google form on which teachers place their order, selecting their flavor, size and preferred time and location of the delivery.  A list of the orders is printed, and the students determine the route.  Looking over the list, Johnson asked Clark where they were going to start their current delivery, to which Clark replied, “Downstairs.”

Other students have been instrumental in getting Fillin Cups started.  Clark’s sister, Kayla Clark, used her art skills to bring the logo to life.  She came up with the inspiration by looking through multiple designs online to find the tiger that she liked.  After going through several YouTube tutorials, to learn how to work with gradient effects and lettering, Clark opened Photo Shop and got to work creating the logo. Other students have organized the coffee cart with labels and containers to easily display and access the choices available, and all of Johnson’s students seem willing to jump in and help when available.

In addition to Johnson and her students, many others have been instrumental in bringing the idea to fruition.  When Johnson decided that this was the year to get started, she went to Kluver, who excitedly said, “I will help!”  Kluver and fellow business teacher, Hilary Pico, jumped in and have rallied their students to support the initiative through the business perspective.  “My Accounting students took all of the financial information and have been organizing it for Fillin Cups.  They got an iPad, on which they loaded a point of sale system so the students can track their inventory, sales and decide when they need to reorder supplies,” said Kluver.

Pico’s students, enrolled in Intro to Computers, are using Microsoft Office to create promotional items.  “They are doing flyers, and starting next week, they are going to be doing response cards, suggestion cards and mailbox stuffers for teachers to help get the word out and get more customers,” said Pico.

“I have been really lucky that Mrs. Kluver and Miss Pico have jumped on the train with their business classes.  They came up with a business plan and figured how much to charge in order to help pay for the coffee machine and before we will be able to break even with profit,” said Johnson.  They are charging $1.50 for the eight-ounce size and $1.75 for a twelve-ounce cup.

Mrs. Kluver said that her students got really into the project and made a very grandiose plan, and while it needed to be scaled back a bit for now, the vision for the future of Fillin Cups is indeed that…grandiose.  Pico and Kluver are starting a business club for the 2017-18 school year, and the students who have already committed to joining the club, have agreed to support Fillin Cups in whatever way necessary as one of their projects.  The students want their grandiose plans to come to fruition and will keep track of the business side of the initiative. 

To create even more student and cross-curricular involvement, Johnson hopes to engage Family and Consumer Science teacher, Julie Riessen, and her students to provide baked goods and other snacks.   Kluver envisions using one of the newly constructed concession stands as a coffee bar that is open to students and staff throughout the day.  “We could partner with a coffee shop to train students as baristas, and a certain percentage of the profit would go to Special Olympics, with the remainder to cover associated costs,” explained Kluver.

For now, Clark and his fellow students are content to offer their current coffee, tea and cocoa options.  Though none of the students drink coffee themselves, they are enjoying their new “barista” status.   While making a chai tea to fulfill Mrs. Kluver’s order, Clark wrinkled up his face showing his dislike for the smell, but quickly recovered by saying, “The Caramel Vanilla smells divine!”