LAND O'LAKES — Recently the Connerton Elementary School cafeteria morphed into a classic 1950s cafe, and all agreed that the Jitter Bug Cafe came with a certain "wow" factor.
The cafe was a project of Camp WOW!, a summer day camp sponsored by Pasco Learning and Activity Centers of Enrichment (PLACE) that provides before- and after-school activities for elementary age kids in the school district.
Designed for students who need summer care, Camp WOW! offers themed activities and challenges as well as field trips. One week students could be "spacing out" at a NASA Lunar Rocks/Star Lab; the next might find them going to a Tampa Bay Rays game or meeting with characters from the PBS Super Why! program.
During a week in June, kids tried their hand at culinary cuisine, making ice cream and s'mores and learning about food preparation. The culminating activity was a full-scale cafe that came with a menu of ham and turkey sandwiches with all the fixings, wraps, veggies and salads. Students also staffed the cafe, taking turns as hosts and hostesses, chefs and servers for student diners and learning some valuable skills in the process.
"Every lesson we do here involves all subject areas, including science, math, English, drama," said Connerton PLACE site manager Jennifer Eukitis. "And here in particular, in helping to set up the cafe, they also learn organizational skills."
"And they're learning social skills," added Karen Powell, Pine View Elementary PLACE site manager. "This is like a culinary school."
Eukitis and Powell decided to design their Kids Kitchen restaurant at Connerton Elementary, which involved Connerton and Pine View students, in the form of a traditional '50s style cafe. As guests arrived at Jitter Bug Cafe, they heard a recording of era song classics like Rock Around the Clock and Twilight Time. They saw student-made crafts (hanging paper hot dogs and pizzas, and sculptured centerpieces of ice cream sodas) created to look like diner menu offerings. Sharply dressed hosts and hostesses recorded their names in reservation books, before retrieving menus and silverware and leading them to decorated tables.
"How many people are in your group?" hostess Alyssa Giardina asked guests.
Alyssa, a 9-year-old fourth-grader, regarded her position as an enjoyable but challenging one. "It's fun," she said. "But I have to pick up a lot of stuff at once."
Alex Goodrich, a 10-year-old fourth-grader, agreed.
"Now I know what it's like to work in a restaurant," he said.
"I'm learning how to work with people," added Eric Chasteen, a 10-year-old fifth-grader. "I want to be a policeman when I grow up, and this skill is important."
Once seated, guests were served by a uniformed wait staff that took their orders.
"It's important to be really nice to people here and serve them. It makes me feel good," said server Mckenzie Schoonover, a 10-year-old fifth-grader.
Servers took their orders to a central food table, where junior chefs prepared sandwiches, wraps and salads.
"I'm the master chef," declared Xavier Simmons, who danced and bounced behind the food table as he prepared orders.
As guests awaited their food, they were encouraged to draw and color on paper coasters that resembled vinyl records. Most importantly, the food and service at Jitter Bug Cafe drew positive reviews.
"The food here is very good," praised diner Daniel Recla, 9.
"As good as McDonald's," agreed Michele Wallowicz, 9.