The Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) is bringing learning to the streets with their newly launched Menu for Success. Through the grant program, 13 area high schools will be able to fund food trucks that students will design and operate, all while developing skills in entrepreneurship, culinary arts, automotive learning, graphic design, and more.
“As Rhode Island rebuilds and reimagines its education system, RIDE is thinking outside of the box,” says Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green. “Through Menu for Success, we will provide our students with real-life experience in entrepreneurship, management, and accounting, sharpen their culinary skills and spark their creativity.”
Thirteen local education agencies (LEAs) have committed to participate in the initiative: Central Falls, Chariho, Cranston, Coventry, Davies Career & Technical High School, East Providence, Lincoln, Newport, Pawtucket, Providence, Warwick, Westerly, and Woonsocket.
A Taste of the Real World
The goal of Menu for Success is to move learning beyond the classroom and into the community, where students can gain practical real-world experience that will aid in their future careers. As Lamel Moore, community connections and partnership liaison for the Pawtucket School Department, explains, “We want to make this the best and most outstanding learning experience that it can be. Students will have the opportunity to participate both inside and outside of the classroom. That is a great learning experience. It can be invaluable.”
“It’s not just culinary classes,” Moore adds. Schools can determine how to incorporate the food truck development into their curriculum. In East Providence, for example, Automotive Technology Program students will work on fixing and maintaining the trucks as part of their regular course studies. “Students from every area of focus can be involved. Graphic design students can map out the look of the trucks. Finance students can be involved from a business sense. The scope and breadth of what these students can do is outstanding. It really is unlimited.”
An Investment for the Future
The $1.6 million cost of the statewide program includes approximately $125,000 toward each truck, purchased through a joint request for proposals, plus additional support and resources provided by RIDE. Participating schools are expected to maintain the custom-fitted food trucks, which are expected to arrive this spring.
The program design was inspired by Rhode Island’s reputation as a food tourism destination, with the popularity of food trucks on the rise worldwide. Students will have the chance to be part of that exciting industry trend. At William M. Davies, Jr. Career and Technical High School in Lincoln, director Mary Watkins can’t wait to get the program up and running. “Food trucks are a fantastic small business and culinary learning opportunity, and – at Davies especially – a food truck will provide a great all-hands-on-deck project for students in our culinary, electrical, automotive, and graphics technical programs.”
Currently, each LEA is evaluating their options, from truck size to deciding on a trailer or a full-service vehicle, along with what kind of cooking equipment will go inside – a food truck business designed for baking, for instance, will look different than one serving hot wings. In January, representatives from each of the participating organizations met at the Cranston Area Career and Technical Center to review their options and tour two successful and well-known local food trucks: Nanu Burmese Fusion and Food Vibes.
Opening Doors for Every Student
Through industry exposure, RIDE’s Menu for Success initiative aims to open doors for students of color and increase the number who graduate with a defined plan for continued success. Although Rhode Island’s food sector accounts for countless jobs and billions of dollars in sales annually, not everyone has historically been invited to the table. The state lags far behind in creating opportunities to own and operate food businesses for people of color, who make up only 2 percent of Rhode Island’s 14,000 restaurants. This program hopes to address that issue.
The big picture, as Moore explains, is “having students perform at the highest level in ways that will make them proud and get the most out of them as well. These students will be exposed to countless opportunities. This can be the pipeline for so many outstanding experiences.”
RIDE plans to hold an event October 21, 2023 at Chase Farm in Lincoln, bringing together all 13 food trucks to celebrate the culinary arts in Rhode Island. For more information on the program, visit RIDE.RIgov.
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