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A sweet story for students in café program

In 2018, our MacKillop Education school in Geelong created a fantastic initiative to help keep Year 11 and 12 students engaged in their learning and education. That initiative was The Bittersweet Café.

The Bittersweet Café was a way in which students could be taught numeracy, literacy, social, communication/problem-solving skills, with teamwork exercises organised to teach marketing, menu preparation and budgeting; all in a practical working environment. The café was an instant hit and school attendance rates increased from 40% to 85% on days the café is run.

“The best thing (about the program) is that it can give the students self-worth. The look on their faces when they are proud of a product they have made or delivered is priceless, and that is what I am trying to teach these students; to have some self-confidence, to know they can make a difference to other people’s day,” says Glenn O’Shannessy, V.E.T Education Trainer at MacKillop Education's Geelong school and one of the architects of the program.

The project has only grown since 2018.

In 2019, the school developed a partnership with Bellarine Living and Learning Centre to enable students run a soup kitchen, feeding the disadvantaged in their local Whittington community.

Now, a further expansion of the program is set to occur, with funding recently secured to purchase a mobile food van to further increase skills and employment prospects and move a step closer to the school’s vision of delivering a sustainable social initiative.

The Bittersweet Project will see Year 11 and 12 students complete units within the Victorian Pathways Certificate, including their certificates in Kitchen Operations and Work Related Skills, providing them with industry-specific skills and a pathway into apprenticeships, traineeships and/or further education and training.

Students (supported by teachers) will create an online ordering system, with food prepared at the school café kitchen, which is then delivered via the food van.

Among the positives of this program can be the added benefits to the community.

“The Mobile Food Van will hopefully bring the community together, we haven’t even started the van yet and we have already had the Geelong community enquiring about it, so that is quite exciting.” Glenn adds.

Programs like The Bittersweet Café don’t just benefit the young people but those around them too, such as carers (birth families, care staff etc), peers, and the wider school community.

The students who attend the MacKillop Education school have historically been denied access to a quality education. Unable to attend mainstream schools due to trauma from neglect/abuse or a clinical diagnosis of depression, anxiety or autism, most have been involved with child protection and/or mental health services. 22% are Indigenous, while a large proportion identify as LGBTIQA+.

This program allows our students to take a step in the right direction for their futures, with some already securing jobs within the hospitality sector thanks to the experience they have gained.