Kids learning a latte at student café in Whati

Kids learning a latte at student café in Whati

A unique program at Mezi Community School in Whati, N.W.T., is helping kids on the road to success — one cup at a time.

The sounds of laughter and rich smells of coffee waft from a small room in the high school at Mezi Community School where a group of students crowd around an espresso machine.

At the hands-on student café, they learn everything from baking cookies and making a regular cup of joe to making lattes and cappuccinos.

"I think they really like it," said Jessica Barber, a high school and junior high teacher who oversees the café.

"They certainly are more energetic when they come to school, especially my senior high boys. They're very motivated by the coffee. So it's something that's new for them and it's kind of novel."

Among the students is Todd Wetrade, a returning graduate who said he learns a lot at the café and that it's fun.

Donning a Toronto Raptors' hat, he packs coffee grounds into the basket of a portafiller — the device on an espresso machine that holds coffee grounds — and tightens it into place.  

Once his cup of coffee is brewed, Wetrade uses the steam wand on the machine to froth a cup of milk with a satisfying gurgling sound. 

Barber said beyond making making drinks, the café teaches students other skills they can use outside the classroom like food handling and business skills.

"I saw that the life skills [were] lacking and that there was a need for it," she said on starting the café. 

Emily Blake/CBC

Currently, there isn't a formal coffee shop in Whati, but some people operate businesses out of their homes.

"It would be really great for especially the youth right now if they could establish their own business and become entrepreneurs," Barber said. 

Construction on an all-season road to and from the community is set to begin this fall and it's expected to open in 2020, which could bring more visitors to Whati, she added. 

"That would be cool," Wetrade said, when asked about a coffee shop opening in Whati.

Around 10 students are involved with the café, Barber said, which takes place during the school's "wind cycle" standing for "whatever is needed." During this time students also read, do remediation, or take part in things like the chess club.

"I'm just really proud of my students," Barber said. "Especially some of them, they're very hard workers, they clean up after themselves and I'm very proud of how much pride they've put into this."

"I hope in the future that … we can actually do something with this and make it a much larger scale."

Emily Blake/CBC