Waterloo Career Center opens student-run convenience store

WATERLOO — High school students with a taste for the real world are in for a treat at the Cedar Valley’s newest convenience store.

In the front entrance of the Waterloo Career Center sits the student-operated Career Center Convenience store that opened Jan. 6.

Designed, built and operated by career center students, the pop-up kiosk offers coffee, snacks, class materials as well as T-shirts and water bottles.

“It’s just a really nice display of what can be done when you put a problem in front of kids and you just kind of run with it,” said Mark Aalderks, a coordinator and teacher in the business and marketing programs at the WCC.

Last semester, Aalderks assigned students to develop a business plan for the student-run convenience store. More than a dozen programs at the center collaborated to complete the project in just one semester. The project received a grant from the Waterloo Schools Foundation to get started.

Early childhood education and culinary students were tasked with researching what items are allowed for sale within the national Food and Nutrition Act guidelines. Digital marketing students designed T-shirts, and sustainable construction students built and painted the mobile shop that can be transported to other events if needed. Students in the electrical program wired in lights, a mini refrigerator and a popcorn machine.

“It’s so hands on,” said Endrina Huseinovic, a West High School senior who was involved in the planning process last semester and now works as a cashier. “This is stuff you actually do in the real world. That’s why I really like working here.”

Huseinovic said she plans to study business marketing in college and has enjoyed applying what she’s learned from her marketing classes to the store.

“It makes me feel so independent. … At West I feel so outgrown, and here I feel I have more freedom,” she said.

The store is open for five shifts between classes Monday through Friday. It sells local Fat Cup coffee and other beverages, ice scrapers, pens, pencils, hair ties and more.
Aalderks, with more than 15 years of teaching experience, joined the career center last fall. Originally from the Aplington-Parkersburg area, Aalderks was a teacher in the Des Moines area before moving back to the Cedar Valley and teaching business and Center for Advanced Professional Studies classes at Cedar Falls High School.
He said he thoroughly enjoys working with students at what he describes as the “blank canvas that can give the kids whatever they want and need to succeed in the real world.

“Doing these little things can help build those customer service skills, keeping track of money, counting money, how to settle up after a day,” he said.

The career center opened in 2016 on the north end of Central Middle School. The two-story facility currently offers high schoolers more than 15 career and technical education programs.

East, West and Expo students enroll in the 90-minute block classes and earn Hawkeye credits at no cost. Students from the Cedar Falls, Hudson and Dike-New Hartford school districts can also enroll through sharing agreements with Waterloo Schools.

Programs at the career center and another site are in areas such as construction, digital media, plumbing, education and computer networking.

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