- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 31, 2007

FRANKLIN, Tenn. (AP) — Before the bell rings each morning, students at Centennial High School are lined up to get into the library. But they aren’t necessarily looking for books.

They are waiting for a morning cup of joe at the Cougar Cafe, a coffee shop run by students.

Coffeehouses are springing up in high school libraries across the country, marking a big departure from the days when librarians sternly prohibited food, drinks and talking.

Some health advocates wonder whether high school students need any more caffeine, or the calories in that caramel mochaccino.

But school officials said the coffee shops are promoting reading and studying by attracting teenagers who might not otherwise hang out in a library.

“Once they have them in there, they have their eyes and hopefully have their minds for a little bit,” said Doug Johnson, a school library consultant from Minnesota.

The school library cafes are usually simplified versions of the coffee shops at Borders or Barnes & Noble bookstores. Centennial High’s cafe has an espresso machine and a milk frother, and sells fancy coffee drinks, hot and iced teas and hot chocolate.

“School food reflects the larger culture, so if there’s a proliferation of coffee shops in bookstores out in the world, it’s going to happen in schools,” said Jan Poppendieck, a sociology professor at Hunter College in New York who is writing a book on school meals.

Marketing students work in the cafe, which brings in about $200 a day. After expenses, the cafe should make about $10,000 during the school year, and that will be turned into scholarships for the 10 to 15 student employees.

The coffeehouse trend comes at a time when many school systems are removing junk food and soda machines.

“They’re already providing horrible school lunches. Now they’re adding to that with 800-calorie drinks,” said Susan Levin, a registered dietitian with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Many students load up their coffee with sugar and cream or buy dessertlike coffee drinks, she said.

Terry Shrader, Centennial High principal, said the Parent Teacher Student Organization considered whether it was a healthy idea before opening the cafe.

“Then they came in one morning and watched how many students walk through the door with Starbucks or those Vaults, caffeinated drinks,” he said. “There’s not any increase in the amount of caffeine they’re drinking.”

The cafe uses 2 percent milk, offers sugar-free syrups and decaf coffee, and doesn’t sell doughnuts or danish, said Robbie Reed, the Centennial marketing teacher who oversees the coffeehouse.

John Witmer, who has run a before-school cafe at Hastings High School in Houston since he became librarian in 2003, said it is extremely popular with the 2,800 students.

Before the coffeehouse opened, “they were running about 6,000 visits per year to the library and checking out about 3,000 books,” he said. Now, “we’re running about 65,000 visits and checking out about 45,000 books.”

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