Life lessons ... in a cup

Alvie Ray, Tate Chesterman and teacher Julie Heil test a new flavor of smoothie as part of their Life Skills class. Since October, the students in the Life Skills class have been operating their own business – The Smoothie Shop – from within the walls of Buffalo High School.

Who doesn’t like smoothies? They are delicious, healthy and … educational?

According to Buffalo High School senior Alvie “AJ” Ray, making smoothies at the school’s new Smoothie Station has taught him a lot more than you might expect.

“I’ve learned about delivering quietly and doing stuff responsibly,” Ray said. “I’ve learned to make sure I do things right the first time and not accidentally mess up. But I also learned how to fix things when I do mess up.”

Earlier this school year, teacher Julie Heil launched the Smoothie Station – a business operating within the walls of BHS. All five of Heil’s employees, including Ray, are special education students in Heil’s Life Skills class, which teaches basic life and career skills – from communication skills to how to do laundry.

One of the goals of the class is to prepare students for careers because many special education students go straight into the workforce after high school, Heil said. But providing that training can be easier said than done.

“We have a really small community, and there aren’t necessarily enough places for students to practice these job skills,” Heil said. “I conceived of the Smoothie Station as a safe environment for students to practice those skills before they officially go into the work world.”

The Smoothie Station is open during advisory period on Monday, Thursday and Friday each week, according to Ray. High school students and teachers can order smoothies by text message. The shop offers four different kinds of smoothies: “The Green Machine” (spinach, oranges, apples and bananas), “The Peanut Butter Cup” (peanut butter, bananas and cocoa), “The Banana Berry Blast” (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and bananas) and “The Pumpkin Pie Smoothie” (pumpkin, spices and bananas). Each smoothie is $3, but customers can request add-ons – such as flax seed and cinnamon – for an extra price.

Although the shop has only been in operation since the start of October, it has already become very popular, according to Ray, who is described on the shop’s website as the “taster and blend master.”

“(Earlier this year), we did like 31 smoothies,” Ray said. “It was pretty crazy. Mrs. Heil even blended a spoon.”

“Yeah, 30 is about enough,” Heil said. “We were working our tails off during that hour.”

In addition to creating the smoothies, students are responsible for delivering the smoothies around campus. Junior Tate Chesterman, listed on the website as the Smoothie Station’s “advertising, quality control and customer service queen,” said this was one of her favorite parts of the job.

“I love seeing the happy faces when I deliver them and stuff,” Chesterman said. “They’re genuinely excited to see me, and I think that’s pretty cool.”

Heil said the Smoothie Station’s success wouldn’t have been possible without the support of special education director Luke Danforth, who provided $1,000 in startup money from the special education budget for the project, and principal Jodi Ibach, who has provided fresh honey for the smoothies. She also credited former principal Chad Bourgeois for helping nurture her idea for the project.

Heil said her students are reaping the rewards of that support, and it has been fun to watch her students grow and blossom at the station.

“The students are learning so much, including basic nutrition and science standards such as kitchen hygiene, food ecology and recycling,” Heil said. “We include a lot of math skills, such as modifying recipes, measuring (ingredients) and tracking our income to buy more products. One of my other challenges is meeting the needs of this very diverse group. I have a student with amazing artistic talents, so he created our logo, and I have students that have great cooking skills and strong work ethic, so they are the leads in the kitchen. It’s challenging but fun to help everyone find their niche.”

The smoothie shop is already sustaining itself financially with profits being used to purchase the needed ingredients and equipment for the smoothies, according to Heil. The eventual goal for the Smoothie Station is to save up enough money to move into a storefront in the BHS commons. But, in the meantime, a lot of good things are happening in the school’s special education classroom, Ray said.

“I enjoy getting to taste test and seeing everybody’s happy faces,” Ray said. “Plus, people get to eat and drink healthy. It’s been a really fun experience for everyone.”  

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