Wyoming — Food service workers were in constant motion, slicing onions, steaming broccoli, preparing fries and completing the many other tasks required to make lunch appear in time for the rush of hungry Wyoming High School students that come through the line each day.
Senior Amaru Pegues was lending a hand by placing buns for mini hotdogs into a large container.
“I ask what needs to be done and I help with that,” Amaru said of his role working in the school kitchen for an hour a day, five days a week. He often assembles parfaits, the popular fruit, yogurt and granola layered treat.
Like school districts nationwide, staff shortages in Wyoming Public Schools have created a need for innovative solutions. One way: hiring students to work lunches.
Amaru and fellow seniors Devyn Pitts and Escobar Cruz have joined the food service team during lunch periods, helping things run smoothly while earning money and gaining work experience.
“I like helping people; this is another way I can help people,” said Amaru, who also attends the Kent Career Tech Center’s criminal justice program and hopes to become a corrections officer.
“Having some helpers in here helps split the load up for us,” said District Chef Clark Wallace. “They can do the simple stuff and have the (regular staff) focus on the major cooking.”
Principal Josh Baumbach said food service staff members take a great amount of pride in providing a quality menu and overall lunch and breakfast experience.
“In the face of the labor shortages it’s great to be able to partner some students with our food service staff to fill some gaps. In many ways it’s a win-win situation,” he said. “Our food service team is better able to serve our school community while building relationships with students. Our students can work alongside a team of caring adults, use skills necessary to be a part of an effective team, and earn some extra spending money.”
Earning Money, Filling a Need
When school administrators offered Amaru the opportunity to work with food service during a third-hour gap in his schedule, he was happy to help. Plus, earning $12 an hour is nice.
‘In many ways it’s a win-win situation. Our food service team is better able to serve our school community while building relationships with students. Our students can work alongside a team of caring adults, use skills necessary to be a part of an effective team, and earn some extra spending money.’— High School Principal Josh Baumbach
He said he’s become aware of the attention to detail and ability to muti-task needed in food service. There’s a lot required to feed hundreds of students every day. “I have a brand new appreciation,” he said.
Devyn works both lunch periods, mostly washing dishes. He already has enough credits to graduate, so took the opportunity this semester to spend part of his school day working. “It’s pretty easy,” Devyn said. “I feel good because every time I’m back here and get the dishes done, they really appreciate it.”
Megan Johnson, assistant director of dining services, said it’s “super helpful” having the students pitch in. “The students get to learn a little more in depth about what we do daily. They learn skills of working in the kitchen and on a team. For (the food service staff), it’s helpful to have someone to help with anything they need.”