As you walk through the doors of Kaliana, you are met with a quiet hive of activity. In particular, the canteen staff are hard at work in readiness for lunch service. The difference in this canteen is that it’s not volunteer parents preparing the food, instead, it’s the kids doing all the work. As is the case for many teenagers, their first job will often be in hospitality. Working in the canteen provides all the necessary skills to take into the next phase of their life as adults out in the world. Kaliana is a specialist school in Bendigo North, catering to students from prep to year 12.

As we enter the back of house of ‘The Caf’ rock music plays as students fill orders. The menu is comprehensive with a focus on health. Sandwiches, salads, pasta and even keto bowls are firm favourites on the menu. Signature pizza muffins are being prepared and with no spinach in the fridge, Special Education Teacher and all-rounder Rob Brown heads to the veggie garden to pick and restock the fridge. “The veggie garden is really productive. At its peak we’ll have beetroot, silverbeet, tomatoes and berries. The kids grow up to 1000 seedlings in the greenhouse a year and what produce the kitchen can’t use, we donate to Bendigo Foodshare”, said Rob. Any excess seedling plants get taken home by the senior students as part of their VCAL program.  A family of chooks take care of scraps and in return the fridge is filled with egg and lettuce sandwiches and quiches.

For the students involved in running the kitchen it is more than food prep that is being taught. Cash handling, customer service and eftpos are all skills that make up the training schedule. Caf Manager Kadar does a great job of empowering the kids to learn every part of the process. She also loves to introduce them to flavours they may not have experienced before. Today on the menu are rings of roasted eggplant topped with bacon, tomato capsicum and parmesan.

There are 2-4 different kids in the Caf on any given day. Up to 50 orders are filled daily and all are hand delivered to classrooms across all corners of the school. Children preparing and delivering the food are from years nine and ten. For the preppies and younger kids, their experience includes working in the garden, tending the veggies and, as Rob says, “eating all the berries and fresh veg directly from the garden”.

In years 11 and 12 students get a real-life opportunity, with paid traineeships, working two days a week in the area of food research and experimentation. This supports their participation in the TAFE VET course with a contribution of 430 hours.

With Principal Peter Bush at the helm there is a real focus on ensuring kids are well equipped to be active and productive members of the community. Having seen the hard work and dedication demonstrated in The Caf, I think they are doing just that.

To learn more about the wonderful work Kaliana is doing head to