Conemaugh Township Area School District
Food Service Director: Adam Thomas
Conemaugh Township Area S.D.
District Enrollment: 1139
District Free/Reduced: 38%
The Creative Strategy: Breakfast During Morning Study Hall
The Student Grill Team at Conemaugh Township High School came about by accident. As Adam Thomas, Food Service Director at Conemaugh Township Area School District explained, seven years ago, about a week into his job, he decided to grill foods for a school meal outside when it started pouring rain. The rain did not deter him and he continued to cook the food outside by himself in the rain. Some students gathered around, possibly because they found the scene amusing, but also because they were curious about what was taking place. Afterwards, some students expressed an interest in helping Adam if he ever decided to grill outdoors again. Adam placed a "Help Wanted" advertisement on the menu in an attempt to recruit a grill team. He found much student interest in this team and over its seven years in existence it has become one of the most sought after organizations in the school.
On the day of an outdoor breakfast grill, the student grill team arrives at school at 6:15 AM to begin the preparations. The students do all of the food preparation and serving under Adam's supervision. The grill and tables are set up outside of the school's main entrance, so students arriving by bus must walk by the grill on their way into the school. The student grill team greets the students arriving by bus with a chant to try to encourage them to participate. Students are served breakfast outdoors, and can choose to either take it inside and eat in the cafeteria, or eat at tables set up outdoors. The outdoor breakfast grill is done four or five times a year. In addition, it is done as a send-off for seniors on their last school day before graduation.
The student grill team members are enthusiastic and proud to be members of this team. As grill team member Todd Rosa mentioned on the day of an outdoor breakfast grilling event, "It almost feels like eating at home. It's a good home cooked meal, and it's not every day that you can have your fellow classmates cook you breakfast."
The grill team responsibilities and activities extend beyond the outdoor grilling events. Adam Thomas has trained them, not only in cooking skills, but has also discussed proper serving techniques and sanitation issues. During the winter, the grill team serves at teacher in-services and at an evening jazz club festival.
Serving on the student grill team has given students valuable experiences and skills, and has helped them to learn, not only about food service, but also about working together as a team. It has also affected future career paths. Some student grill team members have entered careers in the culinary arts. Among grill team alumni are chefs and individuals in food service management positions.
Participation in school meals programs in Conemaugh Township Area School District is high, even on days when breakfast is not grilled outdoors. However, Adam Thomas feels that events such as the outdoor grilling event and others help to build student buy-in for the school meals programs. While participation levels are a bit higher on days when special events are held, this student buy-in has resulted in high participation levels even on days when the foods offered may not be among the students' favorites. In a way, Adam views student participation on these less popular days as a reward for the events he holds throughout the year to make participation fun.