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'Brew'tiful life lessons: Students run Belgrade's Panther Perk coffee shop

The Panther Perk is funded by a pre-employment transitions work grant, which provides job training and self-advocacy skills to the student population with disabilities.
Posted at 3:41 PM, Dec 14, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-14 20:32:37-05

BELGRADE — Belgrade High School students are up bright and early helping their school perk up—but they’re brewing more than just coffee. They’re also brewing up some valuable life lessons.

“I am not an early riser,” said Chloe Boujoukos.

Chloe may not be a morning person, but she’s up at 7:30 every day, with a smile, as she serves coffee to teachers and peers at the Panther Perk, a student-run coffee shop located in the high school. She says it's a rewarding job.

“Handing out coffee and seeing people’s faces light up when they get it,” said Boujoukos. “We learn how to steam milk and make different types of coffees.”

But aside from learning how to make a great latte, Boujoukos and her coworkers are also learning critical job skills.

“It’s amazing, in the couple of months we’ve been open, seeing how much they’ve grown,” said Melanie Young.

The Panther Perk opened up in September. The idea popped into the minds of Belgrade high school teachers Melanie Young and Jessica West-Dejarnatt over the summer: to open up a coffee shop in the school and staff it with a combination of special needs students and culinary club students.

“They’ve learned a lot about customer service,” said Young. “But it’s more approachable for them and it doesn’t feel as nerve racking.”

Plus, these students are getting paid $15 an hour.

The Panther Perk is funded by a pre-employment transitions work grant, which provides job training and self-advocacy skills to the student population with disabilities.

“It’s a good transition,” said Young.

“I hope they use this opportunity and take their skills somewhere else,” said West-Dejarnatt.

“I think for some of them…they wouldn’t have had the opportunity to work in a coffee shop without the Panther Perk.”

Coffee punch cards and Panther Perk sweatshirts can be bought through the school by emailing pantherperk@bsd44.org.