Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

In-school market offers a taste of the real world

Students at William Tennent High School didn't know what it takes to run a supermarket - until one opened on campus.

Sarah Cicalitis and Alex Shapiro shop in William Tennent High's ShopRite. The store builds management and other business skills.
Sarah Cicalitis and Alex Shapiro shop in William Tennent High's ShopRite. The store builds management and other business skills.Read moreDAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer

Students at William Tennent High School didn't know what it takes to run a supermarket - until one opened on campus.

Inside the Warminster school, a one-room ShopRite offers the snacks, drinks, and laundry detergent students and staff can buy at a bigger version of the supermarket a mile away.

But this ShopRite - designed in the chain's signature red, yellow, and black - is about more than the customer. The mini-branch at Tennent, which opened in October, is part of an internship and career program aimed at giving students a taste of work in the real world.

"There is more to school than a test," said Albert Catarro, coordinator of Tennent's Career Work Experience Internship program. "College prep and career readiness take different shapes for each student."

At Tennent's mini-mart, students order inventory, stock shelves, and help with accounting. They check out customers using the latest cashier scanning technology, and develop advertising and marketing strategies to sell their products.

All proceeds are reinvested in the market.

The school offers the program in collaboration with Joe Cowhey, owner of a ShopRite he operates with his family on Street Road, and the Wakefern Food Corp., a New Jersey cooperative of supermarkets that includes ShopRite, PriceRite, and Fresh Grocer. (ShopRite stores are individually owned and operated by members of the food cooperative.)

Tennent's program is part of ShopRite's Supermarket Careers initiative, which includes 17 mini-marts at schools and training centers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Tennent and Roxborough High School host the two in Pennsylvania. The stores at sites in New Jersey include one at Cherry Hill West High School.

Each school partners with the owner of a local ShopRite.

"These are the children of the customers who shop in our store. We look at the market as a way of working in the community," Cowhey said. "It's also beneficial when we can get our name out there. It's a win-win."

The local store and Wakefern help design and fund the market set-up, including providing initial inventory, guidance, shelving, and check-out equipment.

Wakefern and Cowhey donated about $25,000 to start the Tennent store, which opened in October. A $10,000 grant from the Foundations Community Partnership, a Bucks County nonprofit, helped the school with additional costs, including buying furniture.

Often, students who work in the program land jobs at a local ShopRite. For years, many of the students who passed through the program at Cherry Hill West went to work for Steve Ravitz, owner of ShopRites and the high school's partner in the initiative.

Teacher Lynne Catarro has supervised the Cherry Hill program since 1990. She said her husband, Albert, got the idea for the Tennent program from her.

"It took 25 years for him to listen to me and get a ShopRite in his school," she said jokingly.

In 1989, Lynne Catarro read about the program operating at a school in North Jersey. She proposed it for Cherry Hill West. The store opened a year later.

"They are not just learning the job task, but the problem-solving, decision-making, time-management, and organizational skills that will help them be successful whatever they do" Lynne Catarro said.

The mini-mart's merchandise includes pasta, soup, fruit juices, water, and snacks. At Tennent, shelves are stacked with inventory including peanut butter, cake mix, salad dressing, popcorn, and potato chips. Prices range from 79 cents to $10 and are the same as at the full-service ShopRite.

All proceeds are used to buy merchandise after ShopRite supplies the initial inventory free of charge.

Both stores sell almost exclusively to students and staff. For security reasons, outsiders cannot come in to shop at the market.

Snack foods and other "grab and go" items are the most popular products at the Tennent store.

"Pringles sold out" said Alex Shapiro, 17, a senior who helps with marketing campaigns and who created a PowerPoint presentation on the store.

Students developed a market survey for teachers to make decisions about inventory, said student Carli Showmaker, 18. She helps order products for the store, and, with classmate Sean Mullen, produces commercials for the market on the school TV station.

Students have learned about federal guidelines that restrict the kinds of foods that can be sold to students during the school day. Art classes have designed posters for the market. A social studies class is using the store in its unit on poverty and hunger.

The students say they have learned supermarkets are about more than just putting food on a shelf.

"Its stressful. Everyone has their opinions," said Rachel Vickalitis, 17, who, with her twin sister, Sarah, helps operate the market. "But when you work as team, it ends up turning out pretty great."