New café brewing educational experience

Pictured, from left, front row, are Columbia High School students Jon McManus, Jonathan Whelan, Katie Lantsberger; back row, CHS special education teacher Chelsea Adair and job coach Ernie Kopp. (Sean McGowan photo)

Traditionally, Columbia High School Transition Program students don their smiles and go to work serving administrators, students, staff and faculty at their Flight Crew store inside the school.

The program benefits from the sales, and customers can show off their Eagle pride and know they are supporting a good cause. And though CHS special education teacher Chelsea Adair said the store continues to operate, the new Eagle’s Nest Café inside the 11 South medical complex is also brewing work experience for the students.

“It is a great opportunity for the CHS students,” said Columbia School District Special Education Director Jeanne Goacher, who is coordinating the café program with Adair.

Adair is in her first year running the transition program for which there are currently eight students.

“The students are learning a lot of soft skills — they’re communicating with customers, stacking shelves, filling orders, handling money,” Adair said of the added venture.

Lorrie Maag of the 11 South development company Admiral Parkway added that students are also learning to manage their time.

“I think it’s been pretty good,” she said. “The people in the building really like that they’re here.”

 Thanks to Admiral Parkway owner Joe Koppeis, the Columbia School District was given the opportunity to begin leasing space on the second floor of 11 South after the holidays to hone their job skills. 

Koppeis also keeps the café stocked with muffins, snacks, beverages and coffee.

“Joe Koppeis called and said he wanted the students working in it. At first he wanted just the transition program running the café, but we didn’t have enough students to staff it so we had to include some other special education students,” Adair said.

On top of that, anyone in the high school’s work study program can pick up some hours at the store that currently staffs three in the transition program, one special education student outside of the program, and one transition program graduate.

“I think people are happy to see the students,” Adair said. “A lot of them come over to the café just to say hi. (Transition student Katie Lantsberger) always comes back with some tips. She’s a rock star.”

Ernie Kopp, a job coach in the school district, coaches the students at the cafe on skills they need to take care of customers and perform well at their job. 

He also ensures they are able to fulfill their responsibilities well enough to perform them independently once they graduate from the program.

“Half of the students and former students working at the café are already self-sufficient and work entirely independent,” he said of their progress. “The two students that I am training have learned some of the technology aspects of the job very quickly, but it is generally too early in the semester to rate on the intangibles.”

Not only do the students gain vital skills for employment, they also take home minimum wage. Stop in to support these cheerful workers between the hours of 7:45 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. Mondays and Fridays. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday hours are 7:45 to 10:15 a.m. and 12:30 to 3:45 p.m.

Transition program update
Outside of the café, transition program students continue operating the Flight Crew store — open from 7:30 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. Monday through Friday — out of CHS. The store provides spirit wear and merchandise such as t-shirts, hoodies, cups, bags and hats.

Call 618-281-5001, ext. 2037 for more information or go to for online ordering.

The students also do a quarterly fundraiser at the Columbia Dairy Queen, which Adair said pulls in about $300 per event. The last two of the school year will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Feb. 6 and at the same time April 10.

“It’s been very successful so far to have the students doing that,” Adair said.

Katie is one of the students who has been a big part of the fundraiser as she mans the drive-thru.

Asked if she enjoys it, Katie replied, “Yeah. It gets a little hectic sometimes.”

Next year, Adair is considering bringing back the adopt-a-grandparent initiative that students enjoyed when former CHS teacher Gina Gunn ran the transition program. 

The students were paired up with residents of Garden Place Senior Living in Columbia and visited with their buddies at the facility once every other week.

“The kids really loved doing that so I think we’ll have to get that going again,” Adair said.

The mission of the CHS transition program is to “empower students with the desire, skills, and means to become lifelong learners as they independently live their life to the fullest in school, at home, within the community, and in work settings.”

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