Breakfast Café: serving up great food and learning for all

Breakfast Café at NRMS integrates abilities withterrific taste


   Students in Nauset Regional Middle School's popular before-school Breakfast Café work as a fast-paced team to plate freshly-made muffins; the muffin of the day is whole wheat banana, made from scratch. Photo by Teresa Martin.

By Teresa A. Martin

The clock shows a few minutes after 7 am and already theclassroom kitchen at Nauset Regional Middle School in Orleans buzzes withactivity.

Over at one prep station occupational therapist Daria Riceoversees the chopping of bananas and the measuring of flour. At anotherstation, two students pair up to crack dozens of eggs. The scent of brewingcoffee wafts in the air. Breakfast Café has opened for business.

Real customers, realfood

School principal Maxine Minkoff receives her breakfast from students in the Breakfast Café. She and many other teachers and staff enjoy the cafe's fresh-brewed coffee and breakfast specials. Photo by Teresa Martin.

At NRMS, staff and teachers don't have to worry aboutgrabbing a donut on the way out the door. Instead, on Wednesday and Thursdaymornings, they can order a daily breakfast special, a muffin-of-the day, or abagel with cream cheese, along with coffee, and iced tea -- all for well under$5.

We're talking real food here. Muffins from scratch. Syrupflavored with infused vanilla beans. Fresh fruit.

"I like the kids to understand that everything doesn'thave to come out of a box or a jar," explains Norma Jean Anderson,coordinator of the café and substitute coordinator for the school.

Response from demand

Anderson, who has been a caterer, personal chef, and cookingclass instructor for 15 years, started Breakfast Café three years ago after theschool sliced the consumer science program, along with food and kitchen safety,nutrition, and basic cooking skills curricula.

Maybe the school couldn't afford to keep cooking as part ofthe school day, but middle school kids, it seems, love food. And given achance, they love learning how to make it. The before-school Breakfast Caféand the afterschool Iron Chef Club arose from ashes of the curricular cuts.

More than cooking

Not only does the Breakfast Café serve up great food, it alsoserves up a multi-dimensional dollop of student learning. Twice a week,students prep, cook, manage orders and customers, serve, and clean up.

But wait, there's more! Last year occupational therapistDaria Rice approached Anderson with an idea. Rice works with middle and highschool special needs students, often focusing on life skills. Nutrition andfood preparation appear high on her list of core skills.

What if, she said, we shape Breakfast Caféinto an integrated program, that welcomes and supports kids with a variety ofabilities - from physically or cognitively disabled to honor students - in theshared activity of cooking?

Food: the great leveler

Everyone loves food. In a kitchen, everyone has a role andevery role matters. Today's Breakfast Café has kids working side by sidewith each other, preparing, cooking, taking care of customers, and cleaning up.Last school year, the integrated plan went into effect and the Breakfast Cafébecame even more popular.

Members of Team Breakfast Café, along with program co-coordinators Norma Jean Anderson (center) and Daria Rice (left center), check an incoming order for the $3.50 breakfast special of Finnish pancakes, sweet potato oven-baked homefries, and fresh fruit. Photo by Teresa Martin.

"Everyone contributes," says Johanne Kieffer,education assistant for the district's Alternative Program, who joinedBreakfast Café this year to provide support to students as needed.

Small things mean strong outcomes

Creating a café that works for all turned out to befairly straightforward. It just took a little awareness, a few small steps, anda willingness to give it a try.

For example, stations have reminder signs: "Hot Water!Lots of Soap! Elbow Grease!" says one at the sink. The signs offer promptsfor those with a cognitive disability.

Rice and Kieffer add a critical layer of support as well.They break down tasks into smaller steps and turn kitchen moments into teachingmoments - helping one student count change for an order, or helping anotherconsider which of three tools would be best for mixing.  They deliver their support quietly and withinthe flow of kitchen activity.

Expansion

The success of Breakfast Café led to it launching anoutpost this year. Anderson and Rice began running an afterschool cafe at thehigh school that, like Breakfast Café, integrates students of differingabilities. It draws upon the Best Buddies project, which matches special needsstudents and mainstream students, as well.

Instead of breakfast, the new high school cafe focuses oncreating fresh and tasty baked goods for the school's store. It makes themuffins that go on sale in the morning, for example. Not surprisingly, the newitems have been a hit and the students who cook and deliver them to the storeare feeling pretty proud about their wares.

Breakfast is served

Meanwhile, back in Breakfast Café, time whizzes by.

"Can you tell me how much yogurt we need"? asksRice.

"That's 'eggscellent' " jokes a student displayinga handful of eggs.

"Check the bagel station," directs Anderson.

"This is called a ramekin," says Rice.

"The pay station is ready," reports a student.

The oven timer beeps. The phone rings. It's show time!

Out go the whole-wheat banana muffins with cranberry butter,the Finnish pancakes with vanilla spice sauce and sweet potato home fries, thebagels with cream cheese, and of course the coffee -- all the order of the dayat Breakfast Café.

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