By Meg Hansen, Director of Marketing and Communications

The Coffee Cart

We all know that Friends School teachers, like their students, are lifelong learners. Constantly honing their craft and looking for new ways to engage their students, 4th grade teacher Emma Thomas and 5th grade teacher Leigh Houser put their skills and expertise together this fall to try something new at Friends School.  What resulted was a real-world lesson plan that provided not only a worthwhile hands-on learning experience for our students, but also gave our parents and staff a jolt to start their mornings.

Both Leigh and Emma began the year teaching all subjects to their respective students to establish community, rituals, and routines in their classrooms. They soon realized the benefit of each teacher sharing their own expertise with the other’s students. So began “content specializing” with Leigh teaching math to both 4th and 5th graders, Emma teaching literacy to both groups, and both teachers teaching combined 4th/5th classes in science and social studies. This thoughtful and meaningful approach to teaching gently introduces this age group to how middle school works, and the students get the best of both teachers.

So began the Coffee Cart project.

As part of content specializing as well as project-based learning, Leigh charged her students with coming up with a real-world business that they could set up and run by themselves, integrating all aspects of math. The business needed to anchor within it first unit of study in math, such as operations and numbers sense, addition/subtraction, division/multiplication. The students researched the best items to sell to our community including lemonade and baked goods and finally settled on coffee. Why coffee? What better way for our parents and staff to start their days on chilly autumn mornings than with a steaming cup of coffee. It turns out, it was the perfect product for our coffee-loving customers.

A few goals were set:

Preparation began several weeks in advance of the business’s opening day: Math, math and more math! Leigh worked with the kids on measurements, ratios, costs, and profits. Emma began working with the students on flyer and brochure design and writing persuasive pitches on buying our coffee vs. the other guy’s (focused on advocating for a particular “Be the Change” project that the coffee cart proceeds would support). Oh yeah, the coffee. What kind of coffee should they sell?

The students contacted Josh Crane of The Coffee Ride, a Boulder-based business that roasts and offers weekly bike-delivered coffee beans to local Boulder coffee lovers. Josh was excited to help the kids with their project and taught them everything they needed to know from how to brew coffee using the French Press, the ratio of grounds to water used, the different kinds of coffee beans, how to roast them, and finally what goes in to labeling and packaging the beans. Josh shared some of the real-life problems a business owner faces and of the ways he uses math on a daily basis to solve problems and run a successful business. He and Leigh even created “problems of the week” which the kids worked diligently to solve.

The students also learned about materials cost and calculating profit, based on those costs. Josh sold his beans to the students at cost and will be reimbursed from the profits they make from their weekly sales. Cups and lids were generously donated by EcoCup and school chef Dacia Horn supplied the sugar. After the purchase of four French presses and a supply of milk, they were ready for opening day.

The Coffee Cart opened for business on October 15 and served its final cup of coffee on December 20. For those two months, twice a week before school, rotating groups of 4 students held specific jobs including brewer (with adult supervision and delivery), sales, barista, price calculator (without using a calculator), cashier, and customer service. On those mornings, parents gathered with their cups of delicious steaming coffee while they took a few extra moments to enjoy conversation with each other. Teachers rushed over before the start of class to get their cup of enjoyment. A time or two, a thoughtful parent delivered a piping hot beverage to the staff on parking lot duty. The vibe on the steps of the elementary front porch was the same as a buzzing, happily bustling coffee shop.  

The profits:

The students received weekly accountings of their sales and studied gross and net sales, tips, and even replied to happy customer reviews through their sales app. After weighing all of their options, they decided that proceeds would fund their campaign to Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots project. Roots and Shoots is a youth service program that challenges students to map their community to determine its potential problems and help make a change. Leigh and Emma’s students will focus on homelessness as their community project and their work on the Roots and Shoots project will tie into the 4th/5th grade current social studies “Be The Change” unit.

Leigh already has plans for future hands-on math units anchored in real-life projects including fractions (cooking), geometry (tiny houses, raised garden beds), data and probability (games and surveys). Emma’s upcoming literacy lessons include narrative writing (witness statements and character writing for our upcoming government unit), a book club focusing on different kinds of American experiences, and a deep dive into the following questions: Who has power in the US? How did they get their power? How do we use our power? 

Yes, content specializing by our dynamic teaching duo of Leigh and Emma, and projects like The Coffee Cart, prepare our students for middle school and gives them a chance to interact with a larger social group. Perhaps more important are the real-life skills like collaboration, communication, relationship building, and teamwork that, mixed with rich academics, prepare kids to thrive beyond the Friends School walls to become engaging, contributing, life-loving citizens. Just what this world needs right now. Pass the cream and sugar, please.

Challenging minds. Nurturing spirits. Honoring individuality.