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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.”

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