'Cafe Kids' Mixes Learning With Real-Life Experience
Tulsa Trail School's teachers use grant to create unique classroom.
It still takes a little imagination to see the café that Tulsa Trail Elementary School teachers Danielle Kovach and Patricia Pietrzak envision.
The former classroom lacks the plumbing and electric wiring needed to install the cooking equipment and sink, the tables and chairs are clustered in a pile in the middle of the room, and the appliances still have the protective plastic wrapping that the manufacturer uses.
It’s a start.
Kovach, a third-grade teacher and Pietrzak, the school’s speech teacher, won a $2,000 grant from ING, the financial services company, to create a “Café Kids” with the goal of using cooking, food service and all related duties as a way to enforce classroom studies through real-life activities.
The goal is to create an operational kitchen and café where up to 50 special needs students can learn to prepare and serve meals.
“The goal is to combine life skills with school,” Kovach said. She was New Jersey teacher of the year in 2010-11.
Pietrzak said classroom lesson in math, science, reading, language skills and others will be reinforced through the café’s activities.
Students preparing food will measure ingredients, read recipes, tally the costs of a meals and using math skills, for example. They will also cook for themselves, create menus and flyers, interact with the public and other students and analyze the operations and progress of the café in weekly review sessions, the teachers said.
While this is a different sort of classroom, Kovach said, it is a classroom.
“We will be ‘teaching the test,’ just in a different way,” she said.
“The students will run the café just like a restaurant. Each child will be responsible for a job in the café, such as cook, waitress, hostess, manager, etc. Students will not only cook and serve the food, but also will be responsible for reading the menu to the patrons, writing the order down, calculating the bill, and giving correct change,” Kovach wrote..
“Students will also take a weekly inventory of supplies and predict what will be needed in the coming week to run the café.”
The ING Unsung Hero grant is designed to support innovative teaching methods and techniques that improve learning, the company said.
The company has provided 100 such grants a year since 1995.
Kovach and Pietrzak said the Café Kids program is designed particularly to help special needs students excel.
“For students with special needs, their education must go beyond the textbook. Students with disabilities often need instruction in daily life skills at a young age to help become productive community members in the future. They also need to learn effective communication skills. Life skills and communication skills should be taught simultaneously while incorporating essential academic instruction,” Kovach wrote.
So far the café has a stove, refrigerator and sink-and-cabinet station that need final installation. That work is being done by the school’s custodian, but with delays due to Hurricane Sandy and the holidays , the work is not completed.
The appliances came from Home Depot in Ledgewood, the teachers said, where the enthusiastic store manager helped them choose the items.
Kovach said the project is registered on a website where willing donors can help purchase other needed supplies such kitchen utensils and cooking supplies. The café needs about $520 worth of the items, and had received so far a $100 donation.
Kovach said once the café is open, they plan to invite local business owners, borough and school officials, and senior citizens to participate.
The officials and others will be invited once a month to dine at the café.
Before the grand opening local restaurant business owners will be invited into the classroom to share recipes and business tips, the teachers said. Students will also invite non-disabled peers into the café and teach cooking lessons to the students.
The café will provide lessons beyond the classroom, the teachers said, and allow their students to practice life in the real world.
The class website is www.kovachkids.com.