Allegheny Intermediate Unit: Students Learn Job Skills While Serving Tasty Food

Stop by the stylish bistro in Allegheny Intermediate Unit’s lobby, and choose a homemade muffin for breakfast, or maybe the Mon Valley Turkey Sandwich for lunch. It all comes to you, from food prep to friendly service, courtesy of life-skills students learning to interact with the public and build skills for paid jobs.

The AlleC Bistro, serving customers daily, opened in October 2017. Students in AIU’s three special education schools prep the food. Others load the delivery trucks. Finally, others prepare and serve each day’s breakfast items, soups, sandwiches and salads while they interact with customers at 15 indoor and riverside tables.

All students are trained in soft skills and regulatory compliance. They shake hands and chat with customers, but when they’re handling food, they bump elbows, instead. The project embodies AIU’s vision to “elevate vocational programs from our schools to community-based,” says Assistant Executive Director for Special Education and Pupil Services Nanci Sullivan.

“We’re really living our mission statement,” she says. “We maximize learning opportunities for all learners while responding to the needs of the community.”

The Nutrition Group, a food services and facilities management provider, is an enthusiastic partner, providing the food and training students and supervisors. Some students might even get jobs with The Nutrition Group. All are positioned to “be competitive in the workforce and be paid for their work, just as any other employee gets paid,” says Sullivan.

For spring 2018, the program has won grants to enlist students in growing and cleaning vegetables for farm-to-table enjoyment. Before long, the program could cater meetings for AIU offices and surrounding businesses.

School districts appreciate the opportunities opening for their students, and AIU staffers “have been truly impressed,” says Communications Services Supervisor Sarah McCluan. “Students like what they’re doing, and they like interacting with us. We employees have a great opportunity to have an in-house place for really good food at an affordable price, and we can interact with kids.”

The bistro, she adds, is “all about the kids, and that’s why we’re here.”

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