WEEKI WACHEE — Ja'Mariyah Henry, 6, needed a step stool to reach the scanner at the Glen Lakes Publix store so she could swipe her items and print her receipt under the watchful eye of Publix cashier Tracie Vest.
All of Ja'Mariyah's classmates had a chance to be cashiers. And they were just getting started with their investigation into the supermarket's inner workings.
Ja'Mariyah visited the store with Pine Grove Elementary School kindergarteners and their teachers. One of those teachers, Hanora Cassels, said they took the children "so they can learn about community helpers. This way they get a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to run this business."
Cassels was quick to show her appreciation to the store.
"Publix does a good job of taking care of us," she said.
From the register, the children moved over to the bakery, where department manager Kim Velez demonstrated how to decorate a cake. The finishing touch was the addition of "Mrs. Cassels" to the cake, which Velez did with the names of all of the visiting teachers. At the end of the tour, the cakes went back to the school.
On to the deli, where the children's first sight was an oven full of roasting, rotating, sizzling chickens, which was greeted with a resounding chorus of "oooh." The children were soon distracted to focus on deli clerk D.J. Lane, who was working the popcorn-making machine.
As the popped kernels exploded out of the machine, the children screamed in appreciation. (Kindergarteners are very vocal.) A bag of popcorn was sent home with each child, and the children finished at the deli munching on slices of cheese.
Next up: produce. Here the children watched produce clerk JoAnn Mills take a pineapple, which had its top and bottom lopped off, and place it under a machine, which dropped over and around the fruit, cutting loose the peel in one fell swoop. All Mills had to do was open the peel like a book and discard it. Each child received a chunk of sweet pineapple and a walk through the produce cooler.
In the seafood department, seafood specialist Marc Deese was waiting with a gutted salmon on a table. He sneaked in a science lesson, pointing out the fins, tail, teeth and gills. He explained how gills work, which motivated another chorus from the children.
In the meat department, assistant meat manager Michael Schafer had steaks and talked to the children about the various ways to cook meat. Meat cutter Heather Henson demonstrated how she grinds meat into hamburger, and then meat wrapper Sue Rogers packaged it and priced it.
The children moved from meat to the stockroom to watch assistant grocery manager Johnny Martens crush cardboard boxes. Then Martens took them into the cooler that houses milk, eggs and other perishables. It was 40 degrees in there, a Florida winter.
Next, Martens led them into the freezer to see the ice cream, pizzas and the rest of the frozen food. It was minus-10 degrees, a Wisconsin winter. The children loved it.
The children defrosted as they returned to the front of the store to receive goodie bags that included their popcorn sample and prepared to leave.
Although the cooler and freezer were popular parts of this outing, there were other favorites.
"My favorite part (was) the popcorn popper," said Samantha Farias, 6.
"My favorite part was the cake," Mikaela Napier, 5, said.
Chestin Collins, 6, agreed with both of them. He liked "the popcorn, because I love popcorn and I eat popcorn every day, and my other favorite part was the cake, 'cause it looked so good."