AMHERST - As a teacher walked up to the recently installed coffee bar at Amherst County High School Wednesday, sophomore Ethan Evjen smiled while tapping a touchscreen that triggered an automated voice. 

"Welcome to Overdue Brew. How can we help you?" 

After the customer's order was taken freshman Eligio Lombard had the freshly brewed beverage ready a minute later. 

Simple in concept and delivery, the newest feature to the school's library is an effective, beneficial setting to help special needs students such as Ethan and others take part in activities outside of the classroom. The Overdue Brew coffee bar, an idea conceived by librarian Robin Holmes, also is a way to raise money to buy items for the library.

Holmes said the interactions teach students "soft skills" such as handling money, interacting with the public and etiquette in customer service. 

"I thought 'what a good way to incorporate what they are learning in the classroom in real life and also make some money in here for the library,'" Holmes said. 

The library recently added donated restaurant-style chairs and booths with student-crafted art on the back to provide a bookstore and coffee shop atmosphere similar to Starbucks and Barnes & Noble.  

The coffee bar opened in early February and already is popular among teachers and staff who come by to pick up varieties of coffee, tea and hot chocolate, Holmes said. Students are expected to eventually begin using the coffee shop as customers, she said. 

Along with teaching interpersonal skills to students with disabilities, the bar on wheels recently constructed by students in the building and trades course provides "a more engaging" experience for the library, Holmes said. 

"They're going to go get coffee somewhere anyway, so why not come here at Overdue Brew and grab a cup before class starts?" Holmes said. 

Many teachers and staff come by frequently and love it, she added. Overdue Brew offers reward cards, prepaid cards and a service called "hall dash" where student volunteers deliver beverages to classrooms on request.

"It's taken off, especially with our adults working here," Holmes said of its popularity. 

Eligio said prior to volunteering at Overdue Brew he hadn't made coffee before and it's been a fun experience. "I'm not a coffee person," he said. "I'm more like a tea person." 

Jason Cox, a special needs teacher at the high school, said it's been helpful for those students learning to adapt to the business type of setting, greeting customers, brewing beverages and working the register. 

"It helps build their work skills and helps them be more employable when they leave high school," Cox said. "They are enjoying it." 

Holmes said she requested a coffee bar on wheels so it can be moved around the library and elsewhere in the school as needed. She was thrilled with the students' craftsmanship in carrying out the design. 

One of those students, senior Nathan Collier, said helping construct it was a positive learning experience, especially in working with tiles. Several students who worked on it said they feel a sense of pride in contributing to a feature to benefit the school for years to come. 

"We also learned so much more and in the future we can do it ourselves rather than hiring someone else to do it," junior Trafton Graves said. 

"It allows us to have better experience in getting a job," junior Brett Wright added. 

Senior Shakur Harvey said along with the lessons in skills it was rewarding to help create something that other students enjoy and can learn from.  

Holmes said students are excited about the new addition and keep asking when it will be open for them to purchase beverages, which she hopes to get the green light for soon. "The kids are anxious, that's for sure," Holmes said.

Social studies teacher Heath Cockerham, who recently stopped by for a cup of coffee, said the student volunteers do a wonderful job and he is impressed. 

"It's outstanding," Cockerham said. "It's exactly what the doctor ordered." 

For a fast-paced profession, a refreshing cup of coffee can go a long way. 

"I think it's all I live on," Cockerham said. 

Reach Justin Faulconer at (434) 385-5551.

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