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Life Lessons at the Commons
By David Dunleavy

A popular and motivational program at The Glenholme School in Washington isn’t all about the food.

There is no doubt students love the menu at The Commons, the student-run restaurant located on school grounds. From specialty wraps and burgers to chicken tenders, seasonal soups and homemade cookies, The Commons offers a warm and inviting lunchtime atmosphere.

However, The Commons is also an important learning environment for those students who participate in cooking the food, taking orders, serving other students, and cleaning up when lunchtime is over.

“There are so many skills kids can learn and carry over into life,” said Andrew Kepics who has overseen the program for 12 years at the special needs school. “It’s learning how to be on time, following directions, having respect and communicating with others.

“When you’re working here you have to put your personal issues aside because you have a job to do. All these things are so important to make yourself marketable no matter what you end up doing in life.”

Developing these life skills are especially important for Glenholme students who struggle with anxiety, depression, and High Functioning Autism. The Commons offers the perfect opportunity for individuals to strengthen the coping skills necessary to move on to college or a preferred career after graduation.

Each week, Kepics oversees three separate groups of 10 students, who work there as part of their overall curriculum. Some are given the task of preparing food while others will set tables, take orders, serve meals and enter point-of-sale orders into the computer. Their ‘customers’ are other students who have earned the privilege of eating at the restaurant based on their behavior.

The Commons also offers a time for students to come together in a more relaxed setting to socialize and develop friendships.

“Many of our kids need to work on that social piece and it happens at The Commons. Many times, they don’t even realize they’re developing those skills,” Kepics said. “But students also have to be cognizant of not over socializing. We are a short-order restaurant, so the food has to be cooked and served at the right time. It’s all part of the learning process.”

Of course, there are benefits to working at The Commons. Students get to make preferred meals for themselves. And of course, they never leave without a fresh-baked oversized chocolate chip or sugar cookie. In some cases, a student will cook a special family recipe for the working group. Specialty drinks such as hot chocolate, with whipped cream and different toppings are also available periodically.

After graduating, a number of students have gone on to culinary schools, worked in country clubs throughout the United States or well-known restaurants such as the Gramercy Tavern in New York City.

“I also hear from parents of graduates who tell me The Commons was the best thing for their child,” Kepics said. “They say the program gave their child the structure and skills they needed to help them in life.”

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