'Real-world learning opportunities': Students going into the coffee business

By Karl Zinke
The Examiner

When the Rockin’ B Mercantile and Coffee Shop in Buckner closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many in the Fort Osage community felt a void. 

Whitney Scott, left, director of the Entrepreneurial Studies program at the Fort Osage School District’s Career and Technology Center, and Emma Sears, a senior from Oak Grove, pose by the former Rockin' B Mercantile and Coffee Shop in Buckner. The Fort Osage Board of Education approved the purchase of the business to use for Scott's program, which will teach students how to run a real world business.

But Fort Osage School District Superintendent Jason Snodgrass and Whitney Scott, the director of the Entrepreneurial Studies program at the district’s Career and Technology Center, saw an opportunity to not only help the community but their students as well. 

The Board of Education approved buying the closed business on June 8, and the district is expected to close on the sale in the next week or two. 

The coffee shop, which sits on five acres at 26911 E. U.S. 24 in Buckner, will be the new home of the E-Studies program, teaching CTC students how to run a real-world business. 

“First and foremost, I would say we think this is a tremendous opportunity for students,” Snodgrass said. “But also, whenever the Rockin’ B business was open, they just had a lot of positive feedback, and when it closed during the pandemic, we heard a lot of feedback that they missed that business and the opportunity to go visit that space.” 

“So, I feel like the two things really came together – a great opportunity for our students, but also a great opportunity for our community as well.” 

Said Scott: “It's really an opportunity that you can't get in a classroom setting, so there are real-world learning opportunities there.” 

And CTC students, who also come from the Blue Springs, Grain Valley and Oak Grove in partnerships with those school districts, will not just be working at the coffee shop. They will also be involved in the planning, decision-making and implementation of the business. 

"One of the things I have certainly stressed in this process – and I certainly think is important – is truly to have the students engaged in the thought process and the decision making of this business – not to be ahead of the students,” Snodgrass said. “We're so excited for them to learn about this opportunity, but we just need to slow down a little bit and make sure that the students are highly engaged and involved in the decision-making processes. That's what this whole opportunity is about for us.” 

Students will begin the program when the 2021-22 school year gets underway on Aug. 23, working on setting up the business, coming up with a plan, marketing and finances in the hope of opening on Oct. 1. 

Scott estimates that 25 students or more will take part in the program, with about half in the morning and half in the afternoon session. Classes will be held at the shop and students will also work in the business and some will handle marketing duties. It will also involve students in the CTC’s culinary arts and agriculture programs because a small food menu will be offered as well as coffee and drinks. 

A committee of students, parents and staff members have already convened to help narrow down a list of potential names for the business. 

Snodgrass said the opportunity to buy the business just cropped up recently. 

“It was just in the last few months when we started having conversations about purchasing the property,” he said. “The opportunity arose, and we had a lot of conversations to see if this would be a good fit for us, and we certainly felt like it was not only a tremendous opportunity for our students but also a great opportunity for our community as well.” 

Snodgrass and Scott also think it will be a good opportunity for students to learn more than just real-world business techniques. 

“I would say beyond that, that the problem-solving will help,” Snodgrass said. “Regardless of whether they open their own business or not), the problem-solving skills are something all students can benefit from.” 

Scott said she wants the students to learn from their decisions, not just be told what to do. 

“Part of this process is to just let them make decisions and learn from those failures,” Scott said. “Sometimes as a teacher I look back and I can say, 'Well, maybe we shouldn't have made that decision,' but then let them go ahead and make it, and we all learn from that.” 

Snodgrass said there are also talks on how to expand opportunities on the five-acre property. A 5,000-square-foot building sits behind the coffee shop, and a preliminary idea is to possibly use it as an event space. He also said they are exploring how it can benefit other CTC students as well. 

“There are a lot of other opportunities for other programs, besides E-studies and culinary arts,” Snodgrass said. “We're going to have conversations with various programs and various teachers when we return to see what opportunities we might find beyond those two programs.” 

Scott said she and her students are eager to get started. 

“I'm so excited, and I've gotten the chance to share it with all of my students finally, and they are all excited as well,” she said. “A few of them met in the space (on June 22), and it's just really a great opportunity that helps prepare them for their future.”