Editor’s note: This is the last part of a two-part series.
HUMBOLDT — DeDe Merris has found a way for her students to connect with other students.
Her next goal was to find a way for students to learn skills that would be useful to them once they were ready for life after high school.
Merris, a special education teacher at Humboldt High School, along with Katie Walrod, a food science teacher, and Patty Hayes, a business teacher, intertwined friendship, math, and business to create the Cat Cafe.
“The Cat Cafe has been a resounding success on so many levels,” Merris said. “More than ever imagined. We have the support of Friends Club members, our student body, staff and administration.
Senior Nora Carlson enjoys being part of the Friends Club and the Cat Cafe adventure.
“Friends Club is really what its name suggests, a friendship between many peers,” Carlson said. “I not only learned about marketing and running a cafe, but in doing so, I learned to appreciate the joys of working with all the members of the Friends Club.”
Sarah Numedahl, a student at Humboldt, joined the Friends Club for another activity, but found much more with the group and the coffee.
“At first I joined to add another extracurricular to my transcript, but after the first meeting I realized how much I enjoyed the company of the peers who participated,” Numedahl said. “I started to get more involved.
“The Cat Cafe is a great opportunity for all students to learn important life skills, engage with school, and collaborate with others.”
The Cat Cafe, spun off from the Friends Club, served its first customer in October 2021.
“The Cat Cafe is a café on our school’s campus that provides a safe space for all students to collaborate, communicate and connect with each other,” Walrod said. “Our goal is to equip students with real-life functional, transitional and vocational skills working in the cafe. This is done through the use of a school-based cooperative educational program.
“The Cat Cafe is a project of the Special Education Department, but also works with Food and Marketing classes.”
The cafe is a student-run business inside Humboldt High School, where students can learn a variety of skills.
“My marketing course helps me. We help price products by sourcing all components and then pricing competitively and profitably,” said Hayes. “The marketing class was also responsible for the initial promotion of the Cat Cafe.
“The class created posters to promote the opening of the Cat Cafe, the sale of Cat Cafe mugs and tumblers, and the sale of Cat Cafe punch cards. Our class has also created and maintains an Instagram page for the Cat Cafe.
The cafe allows students to interact with each other and build relationships, while learning new life skills.
“The Cat Cafe provides our students with the opportunity to learn life skills, such as money management, customer service and food industry skills.
“Students donate their time to help run the cafe.”
The Cat Cafe has a variety of options for customers to choose from.
“We sell regular coffee, hot and cold lattes, hot chocolate, smoothies, Frappes and monthly drink specials,” Merris said. “Our specialty beverages were created by the staff in our building. It’s a fun way to engage staff.
“Each month we offer four new staff drinks as part of a competition. Staff members encourage students to purchase their monthly specialty drink to help their drink win.
The café is open three days a week on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. On Fridays, it is open from 7:30 a.m. to 8:45 a.m.
“On Mondays, students prepare and deliver drinks directly to high school and middle school teachers’ classrooms during their first-term classes,” Merris said. “On Tuesdays, students serve first-time study hall students, practice making new drinks for the menu, perform tasks such as restocking consumables, bagging ice, and cleaning.
“Fridays are our busiest days and we normally have a team of eight to 10 students working together like clockwork to make drinks and provide customer service.”
Fridays are also special days, where a guest speaker will speak to the students and music will be played.
“Our principal, Dr. Paul Numedahl provides a guest speaker every Friday morning,” Merris said. “Soft jazz music sets the tone in the background. Our superintendent, Jim Murray, is our volunteer delivery driver who helps deliver beverages to our two elementary schools.
Proceeds from the Cat Cafe help support the day-to-day operations of the business and fund Friends Club activities.
“It’s always a learning experience to get started and we keep adding new ideas as we go along,” Merris said. “One example we have implemented is working with teachers to develop an incentive program for students who show improvement in multiple areas such as attendance, assignment completion, and grades.
“We also reward students who we catch doing random acts of kindness. We will certainly continue to add ideas and improve over time.
Landon Vik, who is a member of the Friends Club and loves working at the cafe, enjoys hanging out with his classmates.
“I love coming to Friends Club to see all my friends and eat snacks,” Vik said. “At the cafe, I usually manage the cash register and greet all the teachers and students.
“I’m really good at my job.”