Coffee and Comrades

Jan. 22-28, 2004
Coffee and Comrades
By Kristen Fox / SUN  Staff Writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Students at Seton Catholic Central open a café and doors to communication

BINGHAMTON –– After class hours, students at Seton Catholic Central High School (SCCHS) are not running to catch the bus or hanging out in the hallways to pass time. Rather, they crowd the school’s newly-opened Saintly Grounds Café and grab a rich cup of Seton’s very own special blend coffee and a homemade brownie. “It gets crowded in here,” said Bill Miller, a junior and member of the Saintly Grounds Executive Committee, which oversees the operation of the café. “Everyone loves Mrs. Mazza’s brownies.” Each afternoon, Ann Mazza, who generously donates her time and talent to Saintly Grounds Café, sells homemade delicacies and flavored coffees to the hungry students –– with all profits going to the school’s scholarship fund. But as good as the treats are, there are other reasons why students are flocking to the café.

Saintly Grounds Café, which is located in the library at SCCHS, is a technology-rich learning environment for the school community. When the final bell rings at 3 p.m., Saintly Grounds Café transforms itself into a relaxed learning environment where students and teachers gather to work on projects, do homework, study and hang out with friends, classmates and colleagues. It remains open until 4:15 p.m., although principal Kathleen Dwyer finds that some students, who can’t get enough of Saintly Grounds Café, remain there well beyond closing. “I have been here some nights at 6:30 or 7 o’clock and kids have still been in here working on projects,” Dwyer said. “If we kept Saintly Grounds open all night, there would be kids here.” The dozens of parents, staff and students who have worked together to make Saintly Grounds a reality gave the café a homey feel. It is decorated with Saints paraphernalia and framed collages of students hang on the walls. Former and current students have also added their own personal touches with artwork displays and banners.

Saintly Grounds Café is part of the school’s Learning Media Center, said Dwyer. Computers allow the students to do research and homework and are equipped with Internet access and printers as well as power and Internet connections for laptops. For use on weekends and on special occasions, such as school dances, there are game tables, a large TV equipped with cable, a DVD player and computer, surround sound speakers and a small stage for live performances such as music, readings and karaoke. “One of my dreams is to have students give poetry readings and musical performances here,” said Dwyer.

Spanish teacher Anchen Schulz still remembers when the café, which was formerly office space for the school’s library, was piled top to bottom with old books and periodicals in need of much cleaning and renovating before Saintly Grounds Café could exist. “You wouldn’t believe what it looked like before. There was so much work to be done,” Schulz said. It took approximately one year to complete Saintly Grounds Café, which had its grand opening on Nov. 1, 2003. Schulz was amazed at how the school community pulled together to complete Saintly Grounds Café. “Alumni, parents, staff and students came out to paint, clean, carry boxes –– whatever help was needed,” Schulz said. “The entire Seton community came together and said, ‘What can we do to make this a reality?’”

Bailey Meeker, a junior and member of the Saintly Grounds Executive Board, said that Saintly Grounds Café is a big hit with students. “They think it’s awesome,” said Bailey. She added that her peers especially like the snacks at Saintly Grounds Café. In addition to brownies and pizza, the café offers students healthy alternatives to the “junk food” found in most vending machines. Granola and cereal bars, Chai spiced tea and cappuccino are just some of the favorites among students. “I think that kids would rather be having healthy snacks than the stuff in the vending machines. Before Saintly Grounds there was really no other alternatives to the junk food,” said Bailey.

Parents Diane Precopio and Suzanne Ward, who have both put in hours of time and energy to Saintly Grounds Café, said that they never imagined that the final product would be such a remarkable place. “There is such an ambiance to Saintly Grounds,” Precopio said. “At night, when the lights are twinkling and the kids are sitting around talking, it’s really something special.” “It gives kids a fun and safe place to go and also a way to improve their homework –– there is always a teacher present to help with homework questions,” added Ward.

According to Schulz, Saintly Grounds Café is doing something else for the Seton community –– helping to break down walls among students. “Saintly Grounds has brought the younger and older students together,” she said. “I have walked in and found sophomores playing chess with seniors and helping each other with homework. Bringing the students together like this is what really matters. The rest is icing on the cake.”

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