Corbett puts students in charge of serving, making lunch

New home economics program will serve 600 meals for district

Corbett schools are shaking up the way lunch is served.

Beginning next school year, students - not part-time lunch workers - will prepare and serve lunch for the district's 600 students.

The district laid-off its adult lunch workers at the end of this year and hired a culinary arts teacher to supervise the students. The district's food service manager, Erika Pace, will stay on to ensure that students are following federal and state requirements.

Some Corbett parents, who received letters notifying them of the changes, believed the program to be a sudden reaction to the district's financial woes.

But Corbett Superintendent Bob Dunton says the change is not a reaction to impending budget cuts.

'This has been in the works for a while,' Dunton says.

The shift is actually 'cost neutral' for the district, Dunton adds, but does transfer money - about $65,000 a year - from lunch services to direct education of students.

'Everyone's interested in how many dollars can you squeeze into education and support,' Dunton says. 'We'd been transferring money from the general fund into food service to make it (the old lunch program) work.'

Rather than spend the money on lunch services, Dunton and the school board decided to spend the money directly on education.

The new program has already drawn great interest from students.

'We're capped at about five or six students per period and we already have about 30 students signed up for five periods,' Dunton says.

The program is the first home-economics-type course the district has offered since it cut home economics from the budget six years ago.

The new culinary arts teacher, Brooke Huddleston, will lead the students through four hour-long periods before lunch, during which the classes will prep food and actually cook the lunches. Another class will serve the food and Huddleston will have an extra hour to teach a family and consumer studies class at the Corbett Middle School.

Dunton says the program is new for this area, but that other schools in the country have been doing this for years. The Corbett school board visited a school in Auburn, Wash., which has had student-run lunches for its 800 students for 12 years.

Students in the new Corbett program will gain a nationally recognized certification in food service preparation upon successfully completing the course.

'It's one of the most direct paths for an entry level job, but I was still surprised by the enthusiasm,' Dunton says. 'We immediately had more students request the class than we had room for. In fact, when our ninth-graders pre-registered, there were more requests for this class than for (physical education.)'

Dunton says he's excited about the program and that the district will send letters to students enrolled in the course throughout the summer to remind them to get their food handler's cards before the start of the 2006-07 school year.

'I think it's a significant improvement in how we're spending education dollars,' Dunton says. 'It will be interesting to see what happens with it … the Washington program we saw is actually running at a profit.'