Each week a small class of Spectrum students is given a huge culinary undertaking. As part of their morning class, the teens must prepare a large lunch for close to 60 other students.

It is all part of Spectrum' Cafeteria Training Program, which is one of a kind in the Vancouver School Board.

Kevin Hampson is one of the school’s teachers and works with a support worker to motivate and supervise his students in the kitchen. He says the program tries its best to source food locally, often from their own Spectrum garden, which lies next to the school’s chicken coops out back behind the school.

“Every day we make soup, salad, sandwiches and sometimes baking if space, students and timing allow,” says Hampson. “We create all of our recipes from scratch and pride ourselves on the final product.”

Hampson says the daily routine at the Food Program teaches his students life skills that they will need to stay healthy the rest of their lives. Kids also learn proper knife skills and safe cooking techniques which can help take them into culinary schools.

“This type of activity keeps previously anxious and ADHD students focused, engaged and active for two hours,” he says. “We listen to music as a group, talk about football and argue over who has the best taste.”

Out of the arguments and class discussions comes new social skills for the budding cooks along with a better understanding of what it means to be part of the team.

When serving time comes, there is a mad rush to the cooking area. Students gobble up the food and later, the program’s food scraps are returned to the Spectrum garden where they are used as compost. Spectrum currently maintains five garden boxes which grow a variety of vegetables. The whole garden is tended by Spectrum teacher Shirley Turner’s agricultural class who take turns planting and weeding the garden.

At the end of the day, Hampson says food at Spectrum has played a profound role in the whole school’s curriculum.

“The Foods Program at Spectrum is an integral part of the student experience. Our students learn about food their actively engaging in its production, gathering to enjoy it together and dealing with its remnants through composting and clean up,” he says.

That’s why Hampson says his kitchen is such a wonderful classroom for his students.

“The kitchen is about more than food,” he says. “It is a place to live, to learn, to grow and to explore.”