A collaborative project still brewing between Garden City USD 457 and Garden City Community College could offer varied job training and access to new opportunities for older students in the high school’s Life Skills class.

The proposed solution? A GCCC coffee shop.

For three years, Garden City High School’s Life Skills students have run the Buffalo Coffee Shop, a coffee and snack cart on wheels at the school, teaching them job skills, connecting them with their peers and raising $28,000 for charity and local families in need.

Now, the plan is to take the program a step further with a stationary coffee shop at GCCC, one that could act as a natural transition for students 18 to 21 years old who have essentially graduated from the high school but chosen to stay with the coffee shop program.

“Right now, once kids are finishing their credits, they are just doing what they’ve been doing," Life Skills instructor Paul Lappin said. "And this would give them the opportunity to go get different experiences … ”

The project is not yet approved, but the Garden City USD 457 Board of Education did make a consensus decision to allow staff to draft a memorandum of understanding for the project with the college, which members will review at a future board meeting. Ideally, Lappin said, the program will be able to start this fall.

The GCCC shop will likely be next to the campus’ bookstore and be staffed by one USD 457 special education teacher and one paraprofessional already covered in the district budget. Start-up costs will be partially covered with Buffalo Coffee Shop revenue. The college will cover utilities and potentially open another satellite shop in the Fine Arts center, Lappin said.

The program would be significantly beneficial to older Life Skills students, Lappin said. They would be in a new environment not molded to high school bell schedules, one similar to real-world job experiences and surrounded by students their own age. On top of that, it would help them learn other skills, like navigating public transportation on their own.

Robyn Slate said her daughter, Sara, who is a junior in the GCHS Life Skills class, will likely graduate after her senior year, but could instead consider the GCCC program. Working at the Buffalo Coffee Shop has connected Sara to dozens of students and boosted her confidence and business acumen — she’s even considered selling dog biscuits after she leaves GCHS, Slate said. She said a place where she could interact with students her own age would be perfect.

The new shop is a chance, said Life Skills peer mentor Emma Sanchez, to give students a jump start on their future and give them and their new GCCC peers an avenue to build valuable relationships.

GCCC President Ryan Ruda agreed. He and USD 457 staff have discussed options for college education students or other student groups to act as peer mentors at the college shop.

“It opens up some internships and apprenticeships for students that are interested in education, special education. And it gives them an opportunity to be able to start getting firsthand practical knowledge and experience on that end as well. It’s a win-win for everybody involved in that aspect,” Ruda said.

And hopefully, the GCCC shop would be a jumping off point for other career options for the Life Skills students, Lappin said. Down the road, the schools hope to connect students to other jobs at the school, such as grounds keeping, custodial work, cooking, laundry or sports, he said. Eventually, USD 457 could try similar collaborations with other entities in town, like the hospital, he said.

“These kids, they have a lot of skills. There’s a lot of things in jobs they can do, but I think people are sometimes reluctant to take a chance on them, just for fear of the unknown,” Lappin said. “And I think that’s another good thing about our program … People getting to know our kids can kind of loosen that fear of the unknown.”

Contact Amber Friend at afriend@gctelegram.com.