A delicious smell of steak and spaghetti wafted down the hallways of Juniata Valley High School as students diligently prepared for their monthly spaghetti dinner last week. The food is served to teachers, who take a break from their stressful schedules and enjoy a nice lunch provided by students from the Life Skills program.
Dan Waite, life skills and special education teacher at Juniata Valley and coordinator of the event, commented on the procedures and the course of action they take to prepare for the event: “The process involves a lot more than what meets the eye,” he explained. Although the event is just one day a month, preparation goes on all week prior.
“The first step starts on Tuesday, when the kids go around to all the classrooms with order forms for teachers in both the high school and elementary school. Following the initial orders is a trip to the local grocery store, buying the items they need to prepare. Students read a directory, pick out the items and learn crucial life skills, like using self-checkout and scanning a card,” Waite explained.
With the food they purchase, students get to work on cooking steak, hamburgers, sauce and spaghetti, with the supervision of staff. In addition, they bake five to six cakes and various baked goods throughout the week.
On the morning of the dinner, students come in and rearrange the room to form an assembly line. They cook sauce and steaks, cut desserts and onion and prepare silverware. Some students are also in charge of greeting guests and collecting money. Watching this process, it was clear the students had it down to a science and knew what had to go where and what had to be done when.
Teachers start to make appearances at 10:30 a.m. and continue to arrive throughout the next lunch periods. They have the choice of ordering either a steak salad or spaghetti dinner. Teachers have a choice in pasta, white or wheat, and can add or take away toppings for their salads which are served with a homemade dressing. Everyone gets a dessert.
“I always order a spaghetti dinner with whole wheat pasta,” commented teacher Andra Minor. “They even lay out a seasoning bar complete with parmesan cheese. I look forward to going down and visiting with the students as they prepare the meals. They have so much fun doing it.”
“I usually order a steak salad from the students, but sometimes I switch it up,” commented teacher Jessica Mills. “It’s nice to have someone provide us lunch, and I think it’s a great learning experience for all the students involved.”
Three students involved in the dinners attend the Huntingdon County Career and Technology Center (HCCTC) for culinary arts. “It’s a great hands-on experience for these students; one that they really benefit from,” said Waite. “A lot of the profit from the event as a whole gives us the opportunity to take our students on field trips and lets them experience places they might not otherwise get to go.”
Waite started this program at Huntingdon school district in 2006, and he has implemented it here at the Valley. “We’ve been doing this since 2014 here at the Valley,” he proudly said. “Faculty and staff have been very supportive of these dinners, which we really appreciate. This activity is great because it teaches kids responsibility, following directions, time management, math and money skills and developing good social skills.”