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Voice: September 2017
It’s 7:45 a.m., and the Bearcat Bistro at William Penn Senior High School in York is humming.
Life Skills students and a few of their teachers are busy in the kitchen preparing orders for teachers and staff, some of whom are walk-up customers while others have ordered classroom delivery online.
The sausage casserole special on this day is a huge hit, but there are still plenty of orders for other light breakfast fare items on the menu.
It’s late May and the Bearcat Bistro has only been open for a few weeks, but the brainchild of Life Skills teacher Michelle Masco is a roaring success, and there are bigger plans to come.
Masco teaches vocational skills, a class that has students with special needs studying in five key subject areas – consumer services, construction/industrial, business/marketing, computer and technology, and processing and production.
The students who work at the bistro learn skills like food prep, working a cash register, typing, sewing, data entry, number sorting, and using saws and hammers – and get hands-on experience to supplement what they learn in class.
“I wanted to expand the consumer services component to put the students in a real business setting where they could put into practical application the skills they are learning,’’ Masco said.
She wrote a $1,000 start-up grant proposal to the York County Alliance for Learning, and the grant was awarded last February. The Green Bean Roasting Company in York agreed to be a community sponsor. It supplies coffee and some breakfast items at wholesale.
The Bearcat Bistro then became a project for all of William Penn’s Life Skills programs, with English teachers helping students with things like menus, for example, and math teachers helping with the inventory and financial aspects.
“I’m trying to have all the Life Skills classes involved as much as possible,’’ Masco said.
But make no mistake, the students are running the show. There are 12 kids involved, and some of them are managers for Masco.
On this day, students are in the kitchen preparing orders, some others are taking and serving up the orders to walk-ins, others take food to classrooms for online orders, and a few more sit with teachers at a computer and cash register sorting the online orders, observing the money collection, and making change.
The students have been trained in hygiene, food preparation, how to handle food, and cleaning by the school’s food service company. They also had to go through an application process – writing a cover letter and resume, and sitting for an interview.
The Bearcat Bistro is open from 7:30 to 9 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Online orders must be placed the previous day by 1 p.m., and the students spend the afternoon sorting through them for the next morning, or preparing a special like the sausage casserole.
The goal is to be self-sustaining, and Masco said there are plans in 2017-18 to expand the menu, and do special events.
“I am very proud and supportive of our Life Skills classes in coming together to build an opportunity for our students that functionalizes the material they have learned and exposes students to a very realistic post-secondary outcome,’’ said Assistant Principal Lawrence Bopp.