Parents and students praising the SOAR Transition Program...

Vilonia High School junior Jackie Gose wants to be actress, dancer or singer when she finishes her schooling.  If that isn’t a possibility, however, her next dream job is to work at What’s For Dinner restaurant.

This past year, Jackie joined 29 or so other students who are in the SOAR Transition Program at Vilonia High School tailored for students with learning disabilities.  

Participating in the hands-on program, Jackie has learned to do many things, this year, which she didn’t know how to do before including shop for groceries, cook, sweep floors, count money, dust, wash dishes and peel potatoes. She has participated in on-the-job training at What’s For Dinner,  Harp’s Grocery Store, Cowboy Church, Fred’s and the Senior Citizen’s Center in Vilonia.

When asked what she would like to do at the restaurant, she said, “Anything they will hire me for at What’s For Dinner. I like it there.” 

Hearing that thrills owner Amy Tucker. Working at What’s For Dinner, Tucker teased, may provide Gose with the outlet to do both. On a serious note, Tucker said, she is thrilled to be a partner in the training program.  She has hired one student. The student has been working a couple of weekends at the restaurant and, Tucker said, she is doing a good job. The customers must agree, Tucker said. The girl received a $25 tip working as a waitress last week.

Another student in the program, Quinten Smith, wants to be a chef. His mother, Misty said, she has high hopes that her son will be able to fulfill his dream. Until this year, she said, she had no idea he liked cooking much less that he had a passion for it. At 15, he had always been in a self-contained classroom. He interacted little with other students, she said. She hadn’t entertained the idea of him ever being able to see employment.

“I always thought he would probably be just at home with his mom helping around the house,” Misty said. However, this program has provided Quentin an opportunity, she said, to “come out of his shell” and, she said, she has seen him grow.

“It seems he has a passion for cooking and he wants to go to chef school,” she said. “All he wanted for Christmas was a chef’s hat and apron.”

While his math and reading skills are below standard, Misty believes her son has the ability to follow through with his dream. The students in the program say they have learned other things this year also such as the importance of recycling.  They have participated, along with their traditional student peers, in extracurricular activities and field trips. The students also have been on a field trip to restaurants including Chick-Fil-A and McDonald’s where they ordered and paid for their meals. As well, they have been bowling.

Teacher Sandra Doggett wrote a Healthy Foods grant at the beginning of the school year from Innovative Solutions for Educational Partnerships (ISEP) allowing her to teach the students how to grocery shop and cook healthy meals on a budget. 

“I received the grant for $1997,” Doggett explained.  “The grant provided us with the opportunity to plan two meals a month that would feed the students. We also bought two tablet notebooks that I had included in the grant.”

After studying the Food Pyramid and serving sizes, Doggett said, students planned meals on a budget.  They also made grocery list and students went on a field trip to Walmart to shop. They students learned so much and had a great time, Doggett said.

A banquet held Monday night, the smell of homemade rolls, ham, green beans and mash potatoes spilled into the hallway at the Vilonia High School cafeteria. The meal was cooked by the SOAR students, wearing aprons and hair nets, with a little help from the cafeteria workers. They also served the 100 or so parents and supporters in attendance.