Decaffeinated: Students fight to keep their coffee shop open

Decaffeinated: Students fight to keep their coffee shop open

Alex Brown and Brandon England, of Smithfield High School, are fighting to keep the student-run coffee shop open. England, who interns with Rep. Thomas Winfield, is working to get a waiver from RIDE to allow the shop to sell caffeine. (Breeze photo by Jacquelyn Moorehead)

SMITHFIELD – At the Academy of Finance at Smithfield High School, students learned real-world business struggles as Supt. Judy Paolucci shut down the school-based coffee shop for violating Rhode Island Department of Education codes.

Two students are working with the School Committee and local Rep. Thomas Winfield to request a written waiver from RIDE, hoping to keep the educational shop open.

The shop is run by the Future Business Leaders of America and the Academy of Finance, and students said they were blindsided when their teacher told them in April that the shop needed to be closed by the end of the month due to operators selling caffeine and sugar to fellow students in school.

According to RIDE, caffeine cannot be sold to students, nor sugar, during school hours, which is defined as beginning at midnight the day of until one hour after school lets out.

While RIDE is specific about the school day timeline, Winfield, who donated three Keurig coffee brewers to the shop, said federal guidelines are less specific.

“The bottom line, under federal guidelines it says the shop cannot open during school hours, which we took to mean between 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.,” Winfield said, adding that federal law supersedes state law.

Finance students Alex Brown and Brandon England approached the School Committee on May 7, requesting that the shop be allowed to remain open, but the committee and superintendent agreed it could only happen with written approval from RIDE.

“I cannot advise you to disregard state regulations,” Paolucci said. She said her concern was that the district could lose its free and reduced-price funding should RIDE discover the violations.

Brown and England, who is an intern with Winfield at the House of Representatives, said when speaking with RIDE, the coffee shop was not on their radar, and other schools “are doing worse things.”

“If you have it in writing, that would be fabulous,” Paolucci said. “I’m all for a written waiver to move in that direction.”

Paolucci and the committee agreed the shop can continue to sell coffee, but only to teachers, until a written waiver is received.

Brown said the shop, which opened last November, is an entrepreneurial practice, teaching students about running a business. Key goals the shop was about, Brown said, were fundraising, career exploration, and labor.

Some students were able to complete internships through the shop, working on inventory and other aspects of running a business.

“We’ve gotten a lot of support from the student body to bring it back, even people that didn’t buy coffee,” England said.

Profits from the coffee shop provided $100 scholarships to 10 Academy of Finance students, including Brown and England. Both graduated on Tuesday, and will be pursuing careers in finance at Johnson and Wales University and Bryant University, respectively.

“This was not for profiting purposes,” Brown said. “All the money earned was given back to the students.”

The shop sold coffee, hot chocolate, tea and chai for $2 each between 6:50 a.m. and 7:20 a.m. and again in the afternoons from 1:45 p.m. to 2 p.m. Brown said the shop also helped prevent students from tardiness, bringing them into the school early for coffee and getting them to class on time.

“If you’re late to school with a coffee, they force you to throw it out,” England said. “I can’t function that early without my coffee.”

Brown and Winfield are approaching RIDE this week, and say they would like to see the shop open again in the fall.

“They need the School Committee and superintendent to back them up on this one,” Winfield said.