Foundation Funds: Wildcat Cafe serves up Life Skills at Middle School

It’s more than a crock pot. More than just mac & cheese.

And it’s definitely more than just a lunch.

When visitors make the trek to the far end of the Mechanicsburg Middle School to pick up a lunch one Friday every month, they’re taking part in a program that can have a lasting impact on the students involved.

Wildcat Café opened for the 2022-23 school year as part of Rebecca Kuhn’s Functional Daily Living class. The class, which includes 12 students, is part of the Life Skills curriculum at the middle school.

Kuhn’s Life Skills students have been diagnosed with intellectual disabilities and/or autism. She has two instructional assistants and one interpreter who help with the class. She also receives help from the school’s occupational therapist since a number of the students receive OT services.

“Our goal in our K-12 Life Skills program is to help our students become functional members of society after graduation,” Kuhn said. “We want them to be employable and be able to do as much as possible for themselves independently when they leave school. Running our classroom business (Wildcat Café) is just one way to help prepare them for our future.”

Kuhn applied for and received a $1,000 grant from the Wildcat Foundation for the 2023-24 school year to purchase cooking supplies for the café.

Everything else – the food choices, meal prep, grocery shopping, money management and café service – is handled by the students in Kuhn’s class.

The students use the money raised from the café to help fund an end-of-the-year field trip, fund activities for the K-12 program fun days, fund supplies for café/classroom, as well as extra treats made for middle school staff members.

Wildcat Foundation: What year did the program start?

Kuhn: Wildcat Café started at the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year when I took over the Life Skills classroom at the Middle School.

Wildcat Foundation: What role did the foundation play in the process?

Kuhn: The Wildcat Foundation provided the MMS Life Skills Wildcat Café a $1,000 grant to purchase new kitchen supplies to help us run our Wildcat Café twice a month for the staff at MMS. We were able to purchase many new items that we desperately needed, like crock pots, baking sheets, cake pans, and food prep containers.

Rebecca Kuhn’s Life Skills class at the Mechanicsburg Middle School shows off its Wildcat Cafe offering for September.

Wildcat Foundation: Where did the idea come from and/or what need were you addressing with it?

Kuhn: Part of the Life Skills curriculum at MMS is a class called Functional Daily Living. In this class, we focus on many topics of functional living, including meal planning, meal prep, grocery shopping and more.  Each month the students in the class come up with a breakfast and lunch menu that they want to make for the staff.

The breakfast is typically a simple selection like muffins, egg bites, crisps, coffee and tea. Lunch is more involved. The students create a full lunch menu that includes a main course, variety of sides, dessert and drink. Some of the lunch menus we had in the past were Pasta Bar, Waffle Bar, Soup & Salad, and Taco Bar. This year our first lunch café was Mac & Cheese Bar.

The students work on finding simple recipes online, then they create grocery lists, shop for the groceries at our local Giant, prepare all the meals and then serve them to the staff at MMS. Along with staff at MMS, we often have many district office employees enjoy our lunch as well. Along with all of the meal prep and serving work, the students also work on learning how to wash dishes, run a dishwasher, put away dishes and clean our cooking space.   

Wildcat Foundation: What are some of the key impacts you see for the program?

Kuhn: The students in my Life Skills classroom are provided functional curriculum on a daily basis. They are provided the same courses (ELA, Math, Science, Social Studies, Reading & Encore classes) like their regular education peers but from a functional standpoint. Running our classroom business (Wildcat Café) is just one way to help prepare them for our future.  

Wildcat Foundation: What are your goals for the program moving forward?

Kuhn: Our goal for Wildcat Café is to continue to provide our students with functional skills that they can improve and/or master that will allow them to be as independent as possible, not only in the kitchen but out in the community as well – like at the grocery store. For some of our students, learning and mastering some of these business skills may lead to possible jobs in the future. Just like our Mechanicsburg School District Mission states, we want our students to be resilient, self-directed learners able to achieve personal goals and be productive, responsible citizens in a diverse and ever-changing global society.