Restaurant puts experience on the menu for Tara students.
For teachers Josephine Johnson and Loreena Durrance, part of any good menu is a recipe for learning.
That’s why they created The Banana Leaf Restaurant at Tara Elementary School. On April 25 and April 27, 26 students opened their own restaurant in the school cafeteria, each taking an active role in operations.
“Peeling the potatoes was hard,” said kindergartner Nathaniel Slaughter, who just wanted to make dough, but helped prepare food, as well. “The carrots were a lot easier because they were a lot smoother.”
Johnson, a kindergarten teacher, was born and raised in the Philippines, resulting in Banana Leaf’s Filipino-inspired menu: Lumpia (spring rolls) for the appetizer, the choice between chicken panang curry or pork humba for the main course, and water or green tea (unsweetened) for the drink choices.
Weeks prior to the opening of the restaurant, each of the students “applied” for his or her position of preference. Students chose chef, busser, hostess, entertainer (singing on stage for the customers), cashier, manager or server.
After students had made their choices, they wrote about why they choose that particular position, teaching them literacy skills, Johnson said.
On restaurant days, the students fulfilled their roles. Those who chose to be a chef helped prepare the veggies — cut, diced and peeled them — ahead of time. Servers carried the plates to the customers, and the bussers cleared the tables.
Like at any restaurant, “managers” at the Banana Leaf Restaurant moseyed around, asking customers for feedback about their dining experience.
“Managers will go around and ask people how everything was, teaching the kids social skills which are so important,” Johnson said. “The students will then read through the feedback and reflect, which is really important. Then they will tell me what they were having trouble with, what worked well and what we can do to better it for next year.”
Students take an active role in the restaurant because it is one they have chosen for themselves, said Durrance, an exceptional student education teacher.
“Some children are really into cleaning, so they want to be a busser,” she said. “Some really enjoy cooking because maybe they cook at home with their parents sometimes. This is where the writing comes in. We want to hear why they chose a particular job.”
Despite his dough-making aspirations, Nathaniel had other motivations for his role.
“I’m going to be a waiter because I want to get tips,” Slaughter said.
Each role gave students real-world experiences, Durrance said.
By letting the students keep their tips, it taught them the importance of saving. By having them apply for restaurant positions, it gave them writing practice while teaching them how to apply for a job. The students used some plants they grew in the schoolyard, so they were able to better understand how much it costs to grow something, and how much you make when you sell it, Durrance said.
Here are some comments from students about the Banana Leaf Restaurant menu:
"I like to tell people what to do. The chicken curry is my favorite because it is the perfect amount of spicy." — Tesla Johnson, 5, manager
"I like serving people because I get to do all of the orders. The spring rolls are my favorite, or anything that the customers like is my favorite."
— Jayce Stennett, 5, waiter
"I like looking to see if every waiter is doing their job. I like the food but my mom's food is the best, it is so good. She makes the best beans, rice and pork, which Miss Johnson also makes."
— Victor Oliveira, 6, head waiter
"I like my job because managers don't have to clean up, and I also like seeing if the food is OK for the customers. I like the food [at the Banana Leaf Restaurant] but my favorite food is pizza."
— Sam Wethers, 6, manager
"I really like throwing all of the food away. The sweet tea is my favorite at the Banana Leaf because it is so sweet and good."
— Luna Perez, 5, busgirl