- Associated Press - Saturday, February 20, 2016

CLEARWATER, Minn. (AP) - While most of his classmates are thinking about science back in their sixth-grade room on a weekday morning at Clearview Elementary School, 12-year-old Jonathon Becker wears a hair net, apron and plastic gloves.

He’s among the first to conduct an experiment, though this has nothing to do with a chemistry lab. Becker is one of four students working under the guidance of head cook Judy Hommerding to prepare lunch - in this case about 370 turkey wraps that soon will be gobbled up by everyone from the littlest kindergartners to the biggest sixth-graders.

Becker came up with the idea for students to get the chance to explore roles in the lunchroom by learning how to prepare food and serve large quantities, the St. Cloud Times (https://on.sctimes.com/1TmhgNa ) reported. The idea also was to know how the menu is made and assist with cleanup.

“I like to cook at home and I thought it would be a cool thing to do,” Becker said as he parceled out lettuce and tomatoes into small paper cups for each portion. “I think it’s a good experience to help learn what goes into our lunch. It’s a lot of hard work and, for some people, the things they think might be disgusting are really healthy for you to eat.”

Becker wrote a letter to St. Cloud school district officials in November, seeking permission. He got it, with the help of Clearview Principal Sheri Rutar - who believes it’s the first time students have regularly helped kitchen staff in the district.

“Judy was thrilled at the idea,” said Rutar, a former sixth-grade teacher who has 29 years in the district, 16 as a principal - including the last six at Clearview. “These are intermediate level kids and sometimes they can have the attitude toward staff like ‘It’s your job to do that (make lunch).’ To get them involved in the process so they understand why and how things are done, can be a real benefit. Some of these kids are to the point where they might do some cooking at home and maybe some of them might get interested in culinary arts.”

Almost two dozen students signed up to participate. Usually two to four will help on a given day, as long as the menu doesn’t include soup or items that have to be prepared and served from a steam table. On this day, three girls from Becker’s Spanish immersion class taught by Josh Schmitz also help in the kitchen. They start at about 9:30 a.m. and the first hungry students will queue into line an hour later.

Ellie Oehrlein and Evelyn Eich prepare the cheese for the wraps while Grace Gilmore works with Becker on the lettuce. Nearby, tortilla wraps are slathered with dressing and slices of turkey. Oranges and baked potato slices help complete the meal.

That takeaway could be one of the more valuable lessons Hommerding can impart. Some kids take their food and wind up throwing most of it away,” Gilmore said. “When you work to put all this together, it makes you realize what a waste that can be.”

“This gives the children chances to see what we do, where the food for our lunches comes from and how it’s prepared,” said Hommerding, who has worked on the kitchen staff at Clearview since 1982. “They can be a big help. When they’re in here working, that can allow others to get our ordering and inventories done in shorter time. We had some staff call in sick the other day and we were really in a race. We didn’t have the kids helping that day. We should’ve. We just hadn’t thought of it yet. Now we realize what they can do.”

Once the food is ready, the four sixth-graders take up their positions in the serving line, helping to fill up trays as younger children pass. Turkey wraps are popular, just not as much as hot dogs. When those are on the menu, they have to prepare about 425.

“We’ve got some kids who will try anything and others who don’t like something just because of the color or texture,” Rutar said. “We’ve got a lot who bring cold lunch, too. But hopefully this can open some eyes on both sides of the counter. I can see it spilling over to other classes and hopefully it’s something we can continue.”

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Information from: St. Cloud Times, https://www.sctimes.com


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