Conant Cafe delivers business, culinary lessons in one sweet endeavor

The newly reopened Cougar Perk Cafe serves up plenty of delicious food.

But behind the scenes, it’s also providing sustenance in the way of education — bringing together lessons in culinary arts and business education for Conant High School students.

The cafe aligns the business and family and consumer sciences departments, offering students with a demonstrated interest in culinary arts the chance to pair that passion with a business entrepreneurship course. Students are enrolled in the business course first semester and a culinary course second semester while they run the bakery.

In the process, they can earn an Illinois College and Career Pathway Endorsement, recognizing their demonstration of skills and knowledge needed to succeed in college and future careers.

“Working with the Conant Family and Consumer Sciences department to make this happen has been a highlight of my career,” said Patricia Ertl, business department chair at Conant. “Students in our program see how our curricular areas complement each other and, ultimately, see everything we talk about come to fruition when the bakery opens.”

The unique program has been a staple at the Hoffman Estates high school for 15 years, offering staff members an opportunity to end their week with coffee and breakfast items while students learn multiple crafts through hands-on experience behind the counter and in the kitchen.

Conant celebrated its 15th year of the cafe with a ribbon-cutting, as smiling students donned branded T-shirts and baseball caps to take orders and put the finishing touches on tasty treats — from yogurt parfaits to crumble-top muffins and scones drizzled with a fresh glaze.

“This is an incredible opportunity for our students to get relevant learning experiences, and while we know they are learning important curriculum, they’re truly focused on making the cafe successful and having fun while they’re doing it,” said Michele Napier, the director of college and career readiness for Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211.

“This is just one example of the many ways we are making sure our students have the chance to explore potential careers and interests, sometimes while earning early college credit, while they’re in high school.”

While Conant is unique in its approach, other District 211 schools also offer culinary student enterprises that dish out rigorous learning experiences that go beyond the classroom. Across the district’s five high schools, students manage holiday soup events for staff, provide formal luncheons, and complete bakery sales for students and staff members.

Napier makes it a point to visit as many of these learning experiences as she can.

“What I always notice is that the students are smiling,” she said. “They’re learning in a way that goes so far beyond what you might normally expect, and they are really enjoying it.”

District 211 continues to build its Career Pathway opportunities, leading the way in college and career pathway endorsements and offering chances for career credentials, college credits and work-based learning experiences like internships while students still are in high school.

Conant’s Cougar Perk is open at 7:30 a.m. every Friday during second semester for faculty and staff.

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