New coffee shop program at Niagara Falls High School serves up job skills

Local News

NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (WIVB) – Some Niagara Falls High School students are getting a taste of real-world job experience by serving up coffee to teachers before class.

The “F BITES We Proudly Serve Starbucks” program launched at the high school last week.

The student baristas range in age from 14 to 17. They’re responsible for making coffee and specialty drinks, cashing, cleaning, and other coffee shop tasks.

The program was designed to help students learn job and life skills, Niagara Falls High School teacher Ricco Slaiman said.

Slaiman serves as teacher liaison for the program.

“The students are trained how to be baristas,” Slaiman said. “We even have a student managing the group.”

Working the coffee shop isn’t just beneficial as a learning experience for students, Slaiman added.

“It has improved their attitude toward school in general,” Slaiman said. “It really gets them on the right foot for the day- it’s carried over in improved attendance, better academic performance, better behavior- they treat each other with more respect.”

“It’s good to work here- I love working here,” tenth grader D’Anna Elder said.

“It’s fun- I learn how to get along with people,” tenth grader Avionna Hamilton said.

The F BITES (Food-Based Interventions with Technology, Energy and Science) program started in 2009 as an after school program.

“F BITES Proudly Serves Starbucks” is a six-week program in which students follow a curriculum, learning how to be baristas. The program concludes with the students getting a Barista Certificate and SafeServ certified, an accomplishment they can bring with them to their next job. They also earn work-based learning hours that count toward graduation requirements, as well as splitting the tips they earn, which come out to about $20 per week.

“During first period, we serve the teachers for about an hour and 15 minutes, then we go into more of a classroom atmosphere, where we talk about things that have happened, how we can improve on things,” F BITES executive director Jamie Evan said.

“Some of them already have jobs, but this teaches them customer service, how to talk to people, teamwork, leadership, how to work together,” Evan added. “Transferable skills they can take to any job.”

The coffee shop is also open during events at the school auditorium throughout the year.

“Students come in for that- it’s sort of like an in-school field trip,” Slaiman said.

After this cycle of the program ends, Slaiman said some of the students who just finished the program will help to train the new crew of students.

“I’ve been told [the program] is the first in the nation,” Slaiman said. “I think teaching students these everyday job and career skills is just as important as anything they learn in school.”

F BITES is a nonprofit created by Niagara Falls native Chef Bobby Anderson. For more information, click here.

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