Grad Business Programs

7 Graduates from Leadership Academy


As you pass Mount Airy High School along North South Street, you’ll notice walls, sidewalks, and typical educational signage.

One morning after the semester ended at the Blue Bear Cafe, senior Ocean Davis was putting the finishing touches on a fruit smoothie after serving cookies and brownies as a thank you. Perhaps another customer will soon be ordering a freshly brewed latte from the student-run café.

Blue Bear Cafe’s coffee has a reputation for being so good, teacher Ashley Piles has never hesitated to compare what the kids prepare to what international coffee house chains offer.

“They make better coffee than Starbucks any day,” Piles said proudly.

A variety of coffees such as frappes, lattes, and americanos are available, along with a variety of sweet treats such as several fruit smoothies, bundt cakes, snack items, hot chocolate, and cider.

Blue Bear Café’s menu also includes specialty drinks featuring the local sensation of bubble tea.

But perhaps the best product on offer there is success. Cooked daily by apron-wearing student entrepreneurs who are gaining valuable business experience that will help them in their careers during the school year.

Workforce Initiatives Coordinator Polly Long said when discussing the missions involved, and more specifically caffeine, coffee’s stimulant ingredient, “It’s never about coffee.”

“It’s a matter of skills,” added Long, a longtime employee of the school system who has many credits for making on-campus business a reality.

“A student-run coffee shop has been Polly Long’s dream for years,” said a statement made in connection with the Blue Bear Café program, which received special city government accreditation at the recent city council. . The statement also noted the role that “extraordinarily gifted students” played in its success.

Launched in 2019, the café aims to provide targeted young people with training in essential entry-level skills and pave the way for employment in the service industry.

For example, junior Jennifer Griffin has a goal of becoming a pastry chef.

Blue Bear Cafe is run through the school’s Vocational Learning Course and supervised by teachers Jennifer Gentry and Ashley Pyles, in addition to Long.

“Jennifer is like our pastry chef,” Gentry said of Griffin’s key role in the surgery.

About 10 students enroll in the program each academic year. In addition to working at a café for a set amount of time, which is class time, students also take regular courses. School hours are 8am to 4pm.

student innovator

The Blue Bear Café occupies a strategic space in the high school’s media center and offers a cozy setting for drinks and snacks that rivals any coffee shop on the planet. The surroundings are pleasantly lit from the large windows facing the north-south main street.

The location was arranged with the help of Goodwill Industries, which provided start-up capital to purchase new furniture and accessories, Long said.

Tastefully adorned with walls painted in a soft brown and olive green color scheme, it houses phrases such as ‘provide a cup of kindness’ and ‘imagine’, ‘create’ and ‘inspire’. Engraved with inspiring words. .

Students have responded by constantly adding new drinks and have developed a website to promote their business.You can support ordering on the Blue Bear Cafe Facebook page.

The facility’s Spice and Span kitchen is located in a side room near the counter area where students check out library materials as part of a dual harmonious existence between the two facilities. A gift shop specializing in student-made products is also located in the cafe, offering mugs, T-shirts, and handmade items by local entrepreneurs.

In addition to the culinary talents young people have honed, they will also learn other skills that can be applied to many careers outside of the coffee shop.

These include leadership, communication, organization, and teamwork, as well as real-world functions that serve the public, such as taking orders, exchanging money at cash registers, and processing credit card orders.

“They see it in real time,” Long said of the impression left on those outside who can see the education being applied to real companies. The students involved are a mix of senior and junior students, allowing for a seamless transfer of knowledge as they come and go.

“They are basically learning how to run their own business,” says Pyles.

Although the café is closed for the summer, it remains popular with the general public who can call on campus to pick up their order before it reopens once the next school year begins.

Otherwise, even bulk orders will be delivered to customers.

“We’re profitable,” Long said of the costs associated with that service, given the skyrocketing gas prices. All profits are returned to the business.

“Use some of that money to take them (students) on excursions,” Gentry advised.

Long hopes to expand downtown if he can find the Blue Bear Cafe in the right circumstances.

praise of the city

The smell of success that emanates from the Blue Bear Cafe spreads to City Hall just a few miles away. This is evidenced by special recognition at a recent meeting of the Mount Airy Commission.

Piles attended the session with two other students, Griffin and classmate Shatavia Robison, who participated in a presentation of the program highlighted by handing out chocolate chip cookies to attendees.

The cookies were housed in a colorful package, and the label had feelings such as ‘be nice’ and ‘choose happiness’.

“This program is first and foremost for our children,” Piles said of the effort, which “blew my mind.”

“The Blue Bear Café is one of the bright, shining lights of the Mount Airy school system,” said Commissioner John Coley, thanking Polly Long for his involvement.

“I know you’ll go far in life,” Commissioner Marie Wood told the students.

“Well done ladies,” said Joe Zalesik of the board.

Mayor Ron Niland said of the café’s success:

#Graduates #Leadership #Academy

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