Students help keep cafeteria running at career academy

rheaton@beaufortgazette.comOctober 15, 2012 

DaShana Skanes, 17, center, a culinary arts student at Beaufort-Jasper Academy for Career Excellence, serves food during lunch with the help of Aaron Jenkins, 17, left, and Sharon Smith, right, on Friday morning.

DELAYNA EARLEY/STAFF PHOTO

These aren't your typical lunch ladies.

At Beaufort-Jasper Academy for Career Excellence, lunch is served by teenagers, and about 200 students file through the line begging their fellow classmates for the least-smashed tater tots, a bigger serving of spaghetti or the largest slice of pizza.

But the teens -- students in the school's culinary arts program -- know they can't play favorites.

"We have to treat everyone equal," senior Kenny Vargas said.

The culinary arts students are working alongside staff from Sodexo, the Beaufort County School District's food-service company, in a program their teacher hopes will boost their customer-service skills.

Usually three students work the lunch shifts every day. On Friday, two served spaghetti, chicken nuggets, pizza and corn, while one ran the cash register.

A few are far enough along in the multi-year course to help with some of the food preparation. Most are too young to run the slicers, so liability and safety concerns mean Sodexo still prepares most of the food.

But the students keep the cafeteria running. They clean tables, restock food, wash the dishes and do whatever else cafeteria manager Sharon Jackson needs.

"It's more of a learning experience for them," Jackson said. "I'm hoping it motivates them and inspires them to do more."

Though some students were nervous at first about serving their classmates, most of them have warmed up to the program, which began this year.

"At first it was kind of embarrassing," Vargas said. "But now it's just normal."

Culinary arts instructor Erin Moore said the work provides the students with another opportunity to rack up the 400 hours in food service experience they need to complete the program. About 200 hours are earned through the school's catering jobs, but students are responsible for coming up with the other half through part-time work or other means.

Being able to work with Sodexo means Brendan Washington doesn't have to get a different part-time job. The senior works in retail, so if he didn't have the at-school option, it would have been hard to fulfill the hours requirement, he said.

It can be difficult, though, staring at the food through the three 30-minute lunch shifts without being able to eat, Washington said. But he's not complaining.

"It's good working in the kitchen," he said.

Moore said she hopes to get students involved with creating the menu, so they can learn more about nutrition and requirements for school meals.

She's pleased with how the program has worked so far.

"It's real life experience while they're going to school," she said. "It helps their resume, and it's gone really, really well."

Related content:

Beaufort County Schools already meeting most new USDA lunch requirements; Jan. 31, 2012

The men and women behind the counter; Aug. 8, 2011

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