By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Coffee cart teaches math, communication, teamwork

Marcus Larson/News-RegisterOwen Frederiks pours coffee for teacher Therese Blanco at Adams School, where the RISE program is located. Cole Simpson and Chris Matthews help in the background.
Marcus Larson/News-Register
Owen Frederiks pours coffee for teacher Therese Blanco at Adams School, where the RISE program is located. Cole Simpson and Chris Matthews help in the background.

Owen Frederiks, CEO of German Brothers Coffee, rolled his cart down the hall of Adams School.

“What will you have today?” Owen asked a teacher. To another, who often orders coffee black, he suggested trying the peppermint creamer. At a classroom near the end of the hall, he already knew what the order would be: the usual, hot chocolate.

Coffee has helped Owen, a seventh-grader, become a great communicator.

“Before we started, I wasn’t doing too good in class,” he said. “I wasn’t participating. So me and Mr. Gordon came up with this idea to help me focus.”

John Gordon is one of the teachers at RISE, which stands for Reaching Individual Students Everyday. He offers individual, small group and classroom instruction to the middle schoolers who come to RISE to work on math, literacy and better social and behavioral skills.

RISE is also available to elementary and high school students, not just middle schoolers. They usually go to RISE after other behavior modification efforts have proven unsuccessful.

At RISE, with a small number of students paired with a large number of caring adults, there is less pressure to conform and more options tailored to individual needs.

The coffee cart, for instance, offered Owen a chance to move around, as he wasn’t good at sitting through a long class period. “It’s amazing seeing where he was at the beginning compared to now,” Gordon said.

Before he could start German Brothers Coffee, though, Owen had to write the school superintendent for permission, apply to the nutrition services department and pass the exam qualifying him for a state food handler’s card.

He also had to create his business name and decorate a two-shelf library cart holding urns, cups, stir sticks and other supplies. His brother’s girlfriend helped him by drawing signs that hang on the side of the cart.

“A better coffee,” the signs proclaim in German, alongside a logo featuring a coffee cup dressed in lederhosen.

Operating the cart has strengthened Owen’s teamwork skills. Joining him on his coffee runs last week were Cole Simpson, whose title is “hot cocoa master,” and Chris Matthews, whose title is “chief financial officer and moral support manager.” Another student, Christian, also works with the team.

All the participants are improving their communication skills, collaboration and math. And they’re practicing empathy, as the proceeds go to charity, not into students’ pockets.

As of last week, Owen and his team had raised more than $250. Owen’s goal is to make $600 for his chosen beneficiary, the American Red Cross.

He’s already paid back the $50 loan Gordon gave him to get the business started.

“He made sure to pay me back,” Gordon said. “That’s the first thing he did.”

Owen and his team run their coffee cart every school day at RISE. They visit teachers on both floors of the building, then roll the cart out to the district’s nutrition services office and the Evans Street Campus, half a block away.

As they roll along, the boys pour coffee and tea, adding liberal doses of creamer on request. Cole stirs powdered chocolate into hot water. Chris fishes out a cold can of Diet Coke for one customer.

Interim Principal Kathleen Walker ordered a peppermint mocha. Handing it to her, Owen asked, “Would you like to taste it to make sure you like it?”

“I’m sure it’s just fine,” she replied.

As the cart rolled on, Chris, always ready with moral support, waved goodbye to the principal. “You’re a valuable customer!” he said.

That day, as usual, the boys counted cash and made change. They offered prepaid cards and sometimes let customers buy now and pay later.

They checked their supplies of cups and stir sticks. And they made a point of marketing their coffee cozies, colorful cloth wrappers that protect fingers from hot cups.

“These are $400 cozies, but they’re on sale for $2,” Owen said, explaining that his mother sewed them for him.
Later, he joked with the women in the nutrition services office.

“Usually these cost $1 million,” Owen said, displaying cozies in a variety of colors. “Today they’re $999,998 off.”

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