This semester, a coffee shop has opened in Beatrice High School that is being run and patronized by students to promote socialization.
“The idea was – I had seen some different coffee shops that have opened up in different high schools,” Philip Voigt, the assistant principal, said. “Generally, they use a certain group of students to do that. I liked that idea, but I wanted to create something where there’d be multiple groups of kids from the building that were investing in and basically making this idea come to life.”
Voigt said he decided to have Circle of Friends be the core group working the coffee shop, because it allowed them to interact with students they don’t typically see.
Circle of Friends is a group of special education students that are grouped with other students to learn behavioral, emotional and social skills.
“It’s a unique approach to social skills,” Voigt said. “Instead of a classroom setting, it’s more real-world opportunity to connect students that need some social skill development with students who excel at social skills. The purpose of Circle of Friends is to teach these social skills, so that as those students move on they are able to pursue whatever avenue that they’re interested in or excited in, and that aspect will not hold them back in any way.”
The coffee shop, called Kafé Kindness, is open Tuesday and Thursday mornings before school starts.
Sophomore Morgan McCubbin, a member of Circle of Friends, said the Kafé helps the students learn to be more outgoing.
“The Kafé helps them talk to people, take money for the coffee and just have conversations they wouldn’t be able to,” McCubbin said. “There’s this one girl that always shows up and she so nice. She's always like ‘can I help you?’ and she asks if they want marshmallows and whipped cream. She’s a big help over there.”
Emily Iverson, a special education teacher, said a lot of students want to help with the Kafé.
“It’s now grown to something bigger than ourselves,” Iverson said. “It’s the atmosphere. It’s that kindness atmosphere. For Valentine’s Day, a bunch of them made labels. They might not have stuck to the cups, but they made labels and it’s just those little things that Morgan was saying. Be kind. And it’s really evolved into something bigger than we thought it would.”
Voigt said the same kids participate every Tuesday and Thursday, and he’s seem a noticeable change in their excitement.
“I think it’s been a unique opportunity of creating an entity that kids can feel like they belong,” Voigt said. “That’s really important. ‘One school one family’ is kind of our motto that we’re using this year. Within a family everyone has responsibility, everyone has a place or a purpose, and we want to make sure that we’re providing that for all of the students.”
McCubbin said the kindness continues outside of the coffee shop as well.
“Now when I see [Circle of Friends students] in the hallways, I smile,” McCubbin said. “After they say hi to me, it kind of gives me a little pep in my step. Then I start saying hi and smiling to everybody else in the hallways.”
“Sometimes I’m like ‘oh, I have to get up at 7 o’clock to go to Kafé Kindness and work it,” McCubbin said. “I get there and I’m still asleep, but then they just come in with the biggest smiles on their faces and are like ‘have we had any customers yet?’ That’s what makes it worth it, just seeing how much they’re starting to get outgoing.”
Voigt said it allows students to have a group outside of sports or clubs.
“This has really provided a unique opportunity for kids that haven’t had something to belong to,” Voigt said. “This has given them a place to be, and to form an identity, and that gives them a lot of power. That provides a lot of growth, a lot of opportunity. That’s been Circle of Friends in general, and the Kafé is just a component of that. “
“Before we had started the Kafé, we made Circle of Friends shirts,” Iverson said. “One student, he was so excited because we put names on the back of the shirts. He looked at me completely awestruck and he said ‘I’ve never had a shirt with my name on it.’”
McCubbin said due to participating in sports, having her name on things was something she took for granted.
“I just didn’t think it was that big of a deal,” McCubbin said. “When I heard that story I was like ‘oh my gosh, what else am I taking for granted?’”
Voigt said Circle of Friends is also allowing students to open up to each other more.
“Everyone has a story to tell, it’s just not everyone is as vocal with their story,” Voigt said. “So this provides them the platform to feel comfortable to do that and to have students that are ready to listen. As they share their story more, they become stronger in who they are, that will allow them to continue to open up and to continue to feel like they have people here they can talk to.”
Kafé Kindness is also starting to network with the Beatrice community.
“Another teacher and I had gone down to The Coffee Bistro,” Iverson said. “Mr. Ruby’s the owner of it. In passing we said ‘well maybe we could learn some techniques from you.’ And he said ‘actually, I’d love to give you some coffee.’”
A group of students visited The Coffee Bistro on Friday to thank them for donating blueberry coffee and learn the process of making different kinds of coffee.
Voigt said the goal for the Kafé moving forward is to include more students.
“We’re going to work with some of our business classes to start driving the more financial decisions: the marketing, whether we think we should add machines, should we have specials this week, all of that so we can bring some real life experience into those classes and then connect those business kids to the kids that are operating it,” Voigt said. “Then we want to look at bringing in – we have language arts kids that are interested in poetry day, things like that. The music department kids that want to sing acoustic, those sort of things.”
Kafé Kindness has already influenced the students participating in it.
“I think the club was mostly made to help the kids learn to be more social and talk to people, but I think it’s taught me just as much,” McCubbin said. “Being in this club, now I participate as much as I can with Special Olympics swim team practices. I’ve changed my occupation from a dental hygienist to be a speech pathologist, because I just want to help these kids out. This group has taught me that I want to work with kids that have challenges to make them feel more confident and feel better. Their smiles are worth 1,000 words.”
Up until just a few days ago Beatrice was the largest city in Nebraska without a brewery.
That all changed this past weekend as Stone Hollow Brewing Company opened its doors for the first time to host a fundraiser event for Gage County United Way.
The building at 301 Court St. was built in the 1880s and was originally a saloon.
“Somewhere around 1917 the grocery story used the street level floor of the building,” said brewmaster Bryon Belding during a tour on Saturday. “We found all kinds of interesting things including the attorney’s sign that hangs in the hallway, during renovation. It dates back about a 100 years.”
Belding described the sometimes lengthy process of making beer as he showed tour groups the giant tubs in the basement of the building.
“We’re using the old coolers from the grocery story as storage for the beer which has tubes running to the bar upstairs,” Belding said.
Belding was born and raised in Beatrice. He lived in Lincoln when he was contacted about Stone Hollow. Belding was a home brewer and National Beer Judge in his spare time and accepted an offer to become a full-time brewmaster.
“When United Way approached us about this fundraiser I thought it would be great for both of us, but really had hoped for an opening event for about 30, not 200. But it’s going great,” Belding said.
The Mercantile Building, owned and renovated by Todd and Soni Hydo, hosts a cigar shop and a boutique with hopes of opening other businesses in the future.
“We partner with 15 non-profits in Gage County to provide support in our community. We also do special applications for projects.” said Amanda Kuhlman, chairman of the Gage County United Way Board of Directors. “It is our job to be good stewards of the money raised and this fundraiser is another opportunity to give back."
Stone Hollow Brewery opens to the public on Thursday, March 14.
Beatrice Community Preschool is already seeing an increase in enrollment for next school year.
As of Monday, 198 children are enrolled in the preschool. This time last year, enrollment was at 182.
“We’re looking really, really, really good right now,” Missy Timmerman, the preschool director, said. “We have to save spots for the special education kids, we have to save spots for Head Start kids. We could fill our preschool up today and have a wait list.”
During the Beatrice Public Schools Board of Education meeting Monday night, Timmerman said more than half of the students enrolled will be new to the district, meaning they don’t have siblings that are in school.
Timmerman also mentioned that 27 students will be involved in an Individualized Education Program, which is a 96 percent increase from this year.
“That’s what we’re going to see in the next few years, is our severity of special education,” Timmerman said. “Not behavior, but big medical needs are coming up, so how is that going to affect our preschool?”
Timmerman said this is the first year the preschool has had to handle a big medical need, and only with one student. She said the preschool will have to look into how to handle medical needs on a larger scale.
As for current preschool students, Timmerman said 8 to 10 are not attending kindergarten in Beatrice for the 2019-2020 school year. Timmerman said this is due to families moving out of the district, going to private schools or the parents don’t think their children are ready to start elementary school yet.
“I think our preschool has done a great job getting families and maintaining families in our school system," Timmerman said.