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Fine dining, served up student-style


The placemats read “Mangiamo!” The lasagna was hot and cheesy and the salad freshly tossed. Amidst it all, West Kelloggsville third-graders were in constant motion, writing down orders, greeting guests and serving up dishes of Italian cuisine.

Seventeen students, who interviewed for jobs as servers, hosts, busboys and kitchen workers, recently pulled off a student-led dinner in their gymnasium, dishing out a scrumptious meal for parents, siblings and community members.

Makela Smith stands at her hostess station

“We’re having a restaurant!” proclaimed an excited third-grader, Andres Lechuga, while on kitchen duty.

Principal Eric Schilthuis planned the project for students, offering them a taste of career experience in the food industry. “It’s a work experience, an opportunity for them to do something a little different,” he said.

Students had to interview with Schilthuis for jobs — 37 students applied for the 17 positions — attended planning meetings and learned the attention-to-detail needed for running a business. Preparation included a field trip to Noto’s restaurant, in Grand Rapids, and to the Kelloggsville High School cafeteria.

While district food-service staff made lasagna and pizza was delivered from a local business, students helped prepare salads and pour drinks. Cost for each meal was $5, with proceeds going to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

Alexia Talsma cheerfully takes orders

Students shared some of the etiquette rules they learned during planning:

“The drinks go on the right and the bread goes on the left.” “Always serve on the right side.” “Serve ladies first.”

In the gym, Alexia Talsma took orders from her family. “What would you like? Lasagna, pepperoni pizza or cheese pizza?” she asked her mom, Ashlee Sanchez, who decided on pepperoni pizza before debating the next choice, tiramisu or cheesecake for dessert.

Makela Smith served as hostess, greeting people as they arrived and showing them to their tables. She said running a restaurant is a lot of work.

“It’s not easy,” Makela said. “You have to go back and forth and always have a smile on your face.”

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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