RIVER FALLS, Wis. — Students pour into the space before school starts. Some trickle into the ordering line while others take a seat on couches or at the high-top counter to pull out homework or chat with friends.
Those in line who are regulars order their go-to drink and pay right away, waiting for the baristas to hand them their favorite item. Some mull over the menu, wondering if they’re craving a hot or cold drink.
The coffee shop ongoings have been happening right inside River Falls High School since mid-October. Because the new Wiley’s Common Grounds coffee shop is operating in an old classroom, students are learning customer service, business and leadership skills for school credit just a few doors down from where they learn math, science and English.
The profits and tips reaped from this in-school business venture stay within the community and school, supporting extra-curricular school functions such as the recent Les Miserables theater production.
“The whole goal is to give back,” said senior Casey Schlatter, the shop’s manager. Schlatter doesn’t get paid for her efforts, but receives work-based learning credit with a leadership certificate.
It all started last year with a mobile coffee cart. Schlatter, a junior at the time, began with the coffee cart for an independent study. The cart was taken around to staff members on Fridays, but the buzz among the students revealed they wanted special drinks, too.
With work from an executive team and Principal Kit Luedtke’s support, Wiley’s Common Grounds was established.
The shop continued to order products from the local River Moon Coffee Roasting Company as it had for the coffee cart, but tweaked a few things such as creating a signature homemade hot chocolate mix.
“Soon to be coming is our own custom roast,” business teacher Kris Thompson said. “It will be the ‘Cat’s Meow’ blend.”
The Blind Munchies Coffeehouse in River Falls also contributed to the journey, helping students determine what appliances were needed and how to operate each.
The partnerships don’t stop there. Creations from students outside the coffee world can be seen all around the room.
The counter space for coffee making was built by Renaissance Academy students, a high-top counter for seating was built by barista Dennis Grisar and a full wall mural was designed and painted by art student Drew Hines with help from other students.
Hines' mural, which took between seven and eight weeks and nine helpers to complete in art teacher Taylor Berman's class, depicts River Falls' Swinging Bridge, the old high school and a sunrise.
"It felt like River Falls," Hines said.
Stools will eventually be made by technical education students with the logo on the top and student art will be hung on the wall along with displaying other art pieces for sale.
While students run the show, teachers are still in the loop.
“We just facilitate the ideas … and then we want them to carry them out. We try to stay in the background as much as we can. It’s their energy. We err on the side of trusting them,” teacher Cecily Gillis said.
“We are giving them a lot of flexibility … a lot of these students have stepped up to the challenge,” Thompson said.
The coffee shop is open before school 7-7:30 a.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday every week. On late start days it remains open until 8:15 a.m.
More information can be found at the Wiley’s Common Grounds Facebook page.