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SELMA – Since most purchases are made with debit or credit cards, how do you get students to realize it is important to learn about currency?

That’s the dilemma that Nancy Butterick, a resource specialist program teacher at Eric White Elementary, faced earlier this school year. Rather than simply use a textbook lesson, she asked her students if they’d want to open a student-run store.

“We talked about when we go to a store we still use cash and need to know how to count cash back and what coins are worth. That’s how I came up with this idea,” she said. “If we were to have a business, they’d also need to know how to talk with people, use their listening and social skills and use their reading and math standards that are tied into this.”

The Tiger’s Den Café was born and after months of studying about money and what it takes to run a store, the café had its grand opening on Feb. 13.

“I went to the community and asked for donations,” Butterick said of getting the initial items to sell. “Everything in here, including the coffee machine, everything has been donated by the fire and police departments, Edward Ontiveros with State Farm, another private citizen and the Central Valley Lionness Lions. Then we went online and purchased items.”

The students designed the logo and Butterick said another supporter created and donated a banner and aprons with the matching logo.

“They put this together themselves. I put the boxes out and showed them a picture. At first when they put the items in the bins, they just threw them in there. I said, ‘Does that look appealing?’ It’s all about presentation.”

That morning, the coffee machine, pastries, bottled juices and other snacks were lined up and ready to go. The students donned their aprons, grabbed their pens and order forms and stood ready at their stations. As the buzzer announced the first break, the teacher’s lounge was soon abuzz with teachers, staff and community members who popped in to grab a quick snack.

Butterick and paraeducator Roxanne Cordero are supervising the Tiger’s Den staff of fifth- and sixth-graders as they learned to not only wait on customers, accept payment and make change, but also how to take inventory, stock the merchandise and advertise the café.

“I want them to take ownership of this. I may go to the store and pick the items up, but we sat down as a group. It’s been a lot of hours since November that we’ve planned this project.”

Sixth-grader Samuel Flores, 11, said he likes the idea that he’s helping their teachers stay energized.

“A lot of teachers bring snacks and they usually eat in the morning. They need something more to eat. I like how we’re going to provide them with the food and the energy they need. Teachers work very hard.”

Flores said he’d like to be a chef when he grows up and he’ll likely work at restaurants as he gets that training. Helping run this student café gives him just that much more experience.

“I want to be a chef when I grow up and make food, any type of food. I’m going to work at a restaurant to get my experience. So this is pretty good for me because I need the experience.”

Meanwhile sixth-graders Alejandra Alderete Oceguera, 11, and Fatima Aceves Amezola, 12, were working the cash box.

“We get to sell food to our teachers so they can focus more. It’s fun even though it’s work,” Oceguera said.

“We’re going to get experience so when we grow up, we can put this on our resume,” Amezola said.

Ariana Dean, 11, was busy greeting customers. Her plans are to become a doctor, but she still sees this as step in that direction.

“I could use this to get a job to help pay for college. It gets crowded and loud, but I like it. I’m like ‘whatever.’ Most of these guys are my friends so it’s fun.”

She made her job look easy but admits adding up the customers’ orders quickly and accurately is challenging.

“The calculator is saving my life right now.”

Café supporter Edward Ontiveros showed up to be one of the first customers that day. He attended Eric White when he was an elementary student and wanted to encourage the current students.

“I think it’s a great idea. I grew up in this area so I know all the support we can give goes a long ways. It’s great for them to interact with clients and other people and learn the value of money. The whole social aspect is good for the kids.”

Andrew Guzman with the Selma Police Officers Association stopped by to get a coffee. He agreed having a project where the students could learn math and customer service skills is a good asset.

“People think of elementary kids learning math, English and history, but this is real-life stuff. You can never start too young. I walk in and I’ve already been helped. This is awesome. So when they get into junior high and high school, it doesn’t hurt for them to have these skills.”

Now that the Tiger’s Den Café is open, Butterick said she hoped her students would learn not only math, communication and reading skills while running the cafe, but also gain real-life job skills for their futures. She wants her students to not only be comfortable handling money, but also realize the value of money and understand that nothing is free.

“We all work for something. Then, when they go to the middle school and they have jobs there, I’ll write them a recommendation letter they can take with them.”

This is Selma School District’s first café run strictly by special needs students, Butterick said. She said developing integrity and pride in their jobs and themselves is all part of this priceless lesson.

“I want them to feel that integrity inside and have it be a part of what they show people. I want them to be productive citizens, to walk tall and say, ‘I did this and I love this.’ I’m excited to be part of it but it’s not about me. It’s about our students here.”

She also hopes ultimately her students, and the entire Eric White student body, realize just what these students can accomplish.

“They’re smart, they know how to do this and can talk and add and spell and have that integrity of themselves.”

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