By Kathleen Swift

In a collaboration between the McDonald County High School business department and the McDonald County Chamber of Commerce, business students are taking on a real-world business project as they establish a new coffee shop. The yet-to-be-named business will reflect the spirit of the community and this unique learning partnership.

The School’s Perspective

Students learn best by doing, and McDonald County High School business teachers Kristy Gilgen and Sherry Lemm are providing their students a real-world learning experience.

Gilgen said, “The students have operated a school store, but the coffee shop will serve the entire community. We have taken students to visit other coffee shops run by schools and have a business curriculum in place. The students have a million ideas about the operation, such as making deliveries and including the foods classes. They would like to hang student artwork on the walls. They want to make the endeavor inclusive to many students beyond the senior level Supervised Business Experience class. 

“We believe our students need to possess critical thinking and problem-solving abilities. What the Chamber coffee shop collaboration will offer is the experience with interpersonal and intrapersonal skills and soft skills like resilience, teamwork and adaptability. These skills are difficult to replicate in the classroom without the hands-on opportunity true work experience gives.  

“The students have considered how to keep the coffee shop operating when school is not in session. They are working out real business problems. We hope to open by early in the second semester. And yes, it does make for extra work for teachers and some sleepless nights, but we think it is well worth the effort to give students this experience.”

McDonald County Chamber of Commerce Perspective

“From the Chamber perspective,” said McDonald County Chamber of Commerce Director John Newby, “this is exactly the type of project and initiative we should be encouraging. We have long complained that our youth graduate from high school, go off to college and in most cases, never return to their roots. The best way to provide the incentive to stay or return is to provide a compelling reason to stay or return. By involving the youth of our community in the growth, the outcomes, the inner workings and the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit, we are providing them with a foundation upon which they can build if they choose to stay or return. 

At the core of most of us, there is a drive to create, a drive to grow and a drive to contribute to our community. The problem is that most communities fail to provide either of these critical elements to their residents. The student-operated coffee shop is only the beginning. We would like to seque this into other projects through the Chamber, such as an innovation and entrepreneurial center, youth leadership teams and so much more. 

“The student coffee shop is a great beginning, but like any progress, it is only a beginning. As we succeed with this and other projects, we will begin to see a transformation throughout the entire community. Never underestimate the power of younger generations. While they may need coaching and mentoring from time to time, they indeed have the ability to change the world, but to do that, let it start right here at home.”