- Associated Press - Saturday, February 14, 2015

HONOLULU (AP) - Each school day, Aiea High School food service manager Thomas Rodrigues and his staff do whatever is necessary to ensure that the 700 or so students who pass through their cafeteria doors receive the nourishment they need to be happy and productive.

Sometimes that even involves food.

In the more than 20 years?he has spent at the school, Rodrigues has built a reputation as a trusted leader and selfless mentor, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser (https://bit.ly/1CNbdcv) reported. And while his milieu is the kitchen, not the classroom, Rodrigues has found ways to impart a real-world education to students who could use a little extra help.

“It’s all about the kids,” says Rodrigues. “Everything we do is for them.”

Rodrigues grew up in Palolo Valley, graduated from Damien Memorial School and attended the University of Hawaii-Hilo. He joined the Aiea High School staff in 1994, after a decade working in the fast-paced kitchens of the Halekulani and Sheraton Waikiki hotels.

Most days find Rodrigues and his staff of five hard at work before the sun comes up, busily preparing for two breakfast service periods and lunch.

Aiea is a designated Title I school, meaning that at least 35 percent of its students qualify for free or reduced-cost lunch. Rodrigues says he is ever aware that the lunches he and his staff prepare may be the only properly balanced meal some students get.

Beyond that, however, are needs that sometimes go overlooked. The need for good role models. The need for a second chance. The need to grow up and make the right choices.

About 10 years ago Rodrigues developed a work-study program at the school through which students who had fallen behind in their credit loads could “recover” a credit by working in the cafeteria.

To earn the credit, students must work at least 120 hours - typically during lunch and recess - serving food, washing pans, wiping counters and doing whatever else needs to be done.

For some kids, the commitment is too much and they stop coming. Those who stick around get hands-on experience in a high-volume food service operation and an education in responsibility, time management and hard work.

“It’s a chance for them to build good work habits and a good work ethic,” Rodrigues says. “It teaches them a valuable life lesson.”

Over the years, Rodrigues has seen students who were once unfocused and unreliable blossom into solid students. Many whose paths once seemed uncertain have gone on to college or pursued productive employment. Some have even found careers in food service.

“This is definitely more than a job,” Rodrigues says. “Our reward is seeing them grow up and find success. That never gets old.”


Information from: Honolulu Star-Advertiser, https://www.staradvertiser.com

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