Woodbridge school serves homemade meals and workplace training

The Washington Post, November 25, 2013

Faculty and staff members are being treated to a more upscale lunch two days a week at Freedom High School’s new Bistro Cafe.

One of the Woodbridge school’s special education classrooms is transformed with dimmed lighting, flameless candles, tablecloths and Italian music. Six to eight students with autism or intellectual disabilities prepare and serve the meal.

Marilyn Austin, the special education department chairman for autism and intellectual disabilities, came up with the idea in the summer.

The students have been running a coffee cart with drinks and pastries in the morning for about five years, Austin said. This year, they added the lunch bistro, which includes a salad bar, homemade soup, bread with an olive oil dipping sauce, bottled water and dessert. Teachers make a reservation and pay $5 for the lunch. The students are also making walking tacos Tuesdays and Wednesdays for kids who stay after school for activities. The line often snakes out the door of the classroom and down the hall, Austin said.

“I think the social interaction alone has made them so different,” Austin said. “They learn the building; they’re not sequestered in a little space all day. They get out. . . . I just love this, and so do they.”

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