What do you get when you ask seventh- and eighth-grade students from mid-Missouri to design a new restaurant for Columbia?
You get the Blacklight Café, where dinners glow in the dark.
You get a chance to sample Show-Me-State delicacies at Missouri Meat, and you get the opportunity to enjoy platters named after famous authors at the Book Nook.
“What you get is some incredible creativity,” said Donna Blauch, the writing teacher at Our Lady of Lourdes Interparish School (OLLIS) in Columbia.
Mrs. Blauch, who has been at the school for five years, said she has not had her own classroom since she arrived, because she’s a specialist and there is no room for her.
Her latest “classroom” has been in the school’s foyer. She got creative and started calling it the “Writers Cafe.”
“I have a little chalkboard and put tablecloths on the tables,” she said. “Something homey and creative.”
Each year in the fall, Mrs. Blauch assigns her eighth-graders a persuasive-writing assignment. Traditionally, this has meant the naming of a candy bar or even a Catholic school.
However, this year, the kids proposed to create fictitious restaurants for the Columbia area.
“They were thinking big in terms of wanting to write a business plan and have it all mapped out,” Mrs. Blauch said.
She liked the idea and contacted some friends at Buttonwood Branch of the Bank of Missouri to find out if the students could present their ideas in person.
The bank jumped on board and Mrs. Blauch and her 69 students divided up into 18 teams of three or four and got to work at OLLIS’s Writers Cafe.
“We started in mid-November,” Mrs. Blauch explained. “I showed them the parts of a business plan and they embraced it full-on.”
It wasn’t some five-paragraph essay.
“It had the feel of a college-level assignment,” said Mrs. Blauch. “They learned about marketing, licensing, commercial real estate and a lot more.
“These could be real establishments,” she said.
Mrs. Blauch wasn’t sure what to expect as she and her teen entrepreneurs donning business attire marched into the Bank of Missouri in early December.
“Things were rough when we had practiced two days earlier,” Mrs. Blauch stated.
The students had been soft-spoken and somewhat disorganized in their rehearsals.
“But they were rock stars at the bank,” she said. “The presentations were amazing.”
The restaurant teams were called in by project teams to an interior all-glass conference room in the center of the bank, where they were greeted by six judges.
The judges were bank employees, including the bank president, the branch manager and the head of the small business loan division, in addition to three other executives.
Among them was Lauren Berube, branch operations officer.
“The kids far exceeded our expectations,” she said. “The amount of time and precision they put into the presentations was impressive.”
Students were given three to five minutes to make their presentations that included a storyboard displaying the restaurant logo, design layout, menu and any other pertinent information to get the attention of the judges.
Some teams made sample business cards and flyers.
According to Mrs. Blauch, the judges were blown away by the presentations.
“The bank kept telling me time and time again, ‘This is unbelievable that these are eighth-graders putting these plans together,’” she said.
In fact, the presentations were so good that the bank personnel were scrambling to come up with more awards to give out.
In addition to awarding first, second and third place as initially planned, the bank decided to make two MVP awards and an award for best project board.
Passion for teaching
Winning first place was Snapshot Sweets — a hip, build-your-own dessert bar where diners would have the opportunity to become a “foodie” and share their sweet creation instantly on social media before devouring it.
“It was definitely worth it,” said Claire Glaude of the Snapshot Sweets. “It showed that one can go above and beyond what’s expected of them.”
Ashley Wilkerson, creator of Il Migliori (Italian for “The Best”) restaurant, offered a similar sentiment.
“It was such a great experience that I will definitely use it later in life,” she said.
All who were involved in the project have it pegged for becoming an annual event or project at OLLIS.
In fact, the bank executives told Mrs. Blauch they want to come into her classroom next year and help the students put together their business plans.
She’s crossing her fingers that the Writers Cafe will have its own space next year. A substantial addition to the school is under construction and projected to be finished in the Fall of 2019.
Meanwhile, the accolades and success of this project came as no surprise to OLLIS Principal Elaine Hassemer.
“Mrs. Blauch is full of passion,” she said. “She loves teaching, and she loves kids. Donna doesn’t do anything unless she can give it 110 percent. Her passion shows in daily lessons and gets students engaged into learning.”
As seen in this creative venture.
“This project was important because it gives students a real-life experience in which they can use their writing and speaking skills,” Mrs. Hassemer added.
“They got to see how what she has been teaching them can be used in an everyday situation,” she said. “It reinforced students’ abilities to work together toward a common goal.”