Re: “Old School Cafe faces closure,” Feb. 26
In 2010, the school district was looking for a space in Castlegar which would allow us to open an alternate learning opportunity for students not currently attending school due to anxiety challenges.
An aspect of the program we wanted to provide was an opportunity for students to interact with the community on an ongoing basis. After looking at a number of locations, we leased a former restaurant space in downtown Castlegar.
When we originally envisioned the educational program it was not our intent to run a restaurant but once that space was found we attempted to put a number of components together and try something innovative.
The district’s meals program, which feeds over 200 vulnerable students per day with centrally made lunches, was moved into this restaurant location.
The Old School Café was born when we decided to open the restaurant to the public, which became additional work to our meals staff preparing 200-plus lunches for students throughout the district.
Initially we had students engaged in the restaurant as part of their educational program.
Over the last number of years the restaurant has grown to be quite popular in the community. Because of that, our two great meals program staff were needing to spend more and more time on the restaurant’s operation.
Due to the restaurant’s growing success, the district’s meals program was beginning to see the effects of reduced time spent preparing the 200-plus meals for district students. Over time, we also found greater challenges involving the students in the rest of the operation of the café.
Given that the ultimate responsibility of the district is to educate students, we have decided to cease operation of the public restaurant. Students will continue to receive their educational program there, and the district’s meal program will continue to operate there. Although this has been a difficult decision to make, running a restaurant is not essential to our core work.
The district is proud of the innovative thinking that created the program, and will continue to find innovative ways to engage students in their learning.
However, if an innovative practice ceases to be effective or engage students, then the district must be prepared to rethink the program and make difficult decisions, as in this case.
The meals team, Deni Sutherland and Liz Phillips, are to be commended for their commitment to the work they were asked to do. They will continue to provide school meals to vulnerable students, and have been asked to invite students located at the site to help with meal planning, food preparation, and other aspects of running a meals program.
We sincerely thank the community for the support they have given the Old School Café over these past five years.
The cafe’s last day open to the public will be Friday, March 13.
Superintendent, Kootenay Columbia school district