Sporting a crisp white chef hat and jacket, Harper reports to work with a bounce in her step. The fluffy white Goldendoodle prances into Harper Café, the Summit Academy Akron Elementary School eatery students named in her honor. Inside the K-3 classroom café, children assemble joyfully around the pup, the school’s therapy dog. Harper also serves as the ambassador for the improvised café, where students learn life skills like finance and food prep.
Led by teacher Holly Lyon and intervention specialist Jackie Thomas, Harper Café features a mobile snack bar loaded with treats and beverages school staff can purchase throughout the day. Students run the snack cart, greeting staff members with courtesy, handling monetary transactions and tracking inventory.
“We started the café to teach economics and have expanded to include culinary skills as well,” says Lyon, explaining that in addition to the daily snack bar, the café will provide school staff members with lunches four times throughout the school year.
Students will prepare and cook the meals, beginning with a full-course salad bar to mark the café’s October 5 grand opening. For $6, patrons can choose from any of 24 selections, ranging from beets and baby green peas to mixed greens and mushrooms. Future menus may feature entrees such as pulled pork and tacos. While the complete meal lineup is not yet confirmed, students can look forward to learning how to cut vegetables with plastic safety knives and cook and serve meals while wearing food service gloves.
Students are also learning to make change for their cash-paying customers. The old-fashioned technique of counting back change has become lost to technology with cash registers doing all the work, explains Lyon. She and Thomas are adamant about teaching their students a basic yet important skill they can carry throughout their lives. The educators are already making an impression on their students.
“You need to know how to count money so people don’t steal from you,” says student Ty. The third grader has a knack for finance and advocating for himself, explains Lyon, who anticipates all her students will have a command of both by the end of the school year.
“Children need to learn life skills. We have very good children in this classroom and with Harper rooting them on, we expect the students will do very well acquiring these practical skills,” Lyon says.
As for Harper, she gets top marks for simply being herself.
“Harper is a nice dog. Her mom is a good parent. Her mom is Mrs. Presley,” says student Kartiae, referring to Dawn Presley, the school principal.
Proceeds from the lunches, snack bar and upcoming popcorn sale by the students benefit the school.