The pandemic threw all business owners for a loop. It was no different at the Waterloo Career Center, a part of the Waterloo Community School District. Just two months before COVID-19 hit, high school students debuted a convenience store wholly operated by them.
Then the pandemic hit and the store shuttered, sending students scrambling to figure out how to reopen it with proper safety protocols in place.
That’s been challenging enough for their adult business peers. Yet the students – who come to the center for hands-on, real-life projects that make their class work come alive – were up to the challenge.
Not quite two months ago, the convenience store reopened. It happened because students from cross disciplines, from electrical to information technology to marketing, worked together on a common mission. The outcome? The convenience center is now virtual, accessible by an app.
Students wanting something from the convenience store – from snacks to drinks to popcorn to bling – sign on to an app, make their orders and pay online. Then, at the beginning of the next class period, their orders are delivered to their classrooms by students appropriately clad in personal protective equipment.
“When we created the convenience store, it was a building-wide effort,” said Jeff Frost, executive director of professional development and technical education for the Waterloo district. “We had 14 different programs working on creating the store. We had electrical students working to wire the store, we had students from early childhood checking out what food could be sold that would meet federal guidelines, we had marketing students. It was a great experience.”
When the pandemic hit, it fortified the students’ determination to get it back up and running.
“At the beginning of this school year, they began brainstorming immediately,” Frost said. “Again, we had many students from different programs checking out things like guidelines that had to be in place. And the IT program started creating the app with the goal of ‘How can we overcome this obstacle?’”
The students not only applied their classroom knowledge to real-world solutions, they also learned the realities of the world: That life can take unexpected turns and that, to be successful, one needs to adapt quickly.
“For me, it’s great to see how these students come together,” he said. “One thing I hear all the time is that these students will never forget their experiences here. There’s no doubt their time here is a true investment in their futures.”