Students, staff happy with new cafeteria

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The walls of the new cafeteria at Sallie B. Howard School for the Arts and Education is a rainbow of inspiration.

A ballerina performs an arabesque in a purple silhouette, a scientist adjusts a microscope, a basketball player drives up the court, a student studies a book and an artist an easel.

The 284-seat dining room was completed earlier this school year after a $400,000 renovation at the Wilson charter school.

Because there was a delay in completion of the cafeteria renovations at the beginning of school, students had to temporarily eat meals in the gymnasium.

“We had sandwiches pretty much every day,” said Nicole Guzman, nutritionist and cafeteria manager. “We still had our fruit. We still had our milk. We were able to stay in compliance.” For breakfast they had cereal, fruit and yogurt.

The renovation was completed a month after the students were able to see and use their new dining hall.

“The kids were just amazed. They were like ooo…,” said JoAnne Woodard, founder and executive director at the school.

Woodard said she is “absolutely delighted” with the way the project turned out.

The school needed more space so workers knocked down a wall, changed tables and chairs and changed the overall look of the cafeteria, which pleased the students.

“They like the color,” Guzman said. “The tables are easier to wash when it comes to the kids. The other chairs were a little bit harder to wipe off because they were a little bit older. It is easier for them to scoot underneath the table. They have more space.”

“We like to have like a family-style atmosphere when it comes to the cafeteria, so we had all round tables before so now we put in some longer tables so that we can accommodate more children,” Guzman said.

The school is adding a high school fall of 2019. In the first year, about 100 students will be added to the 1,000 students who already attend there.

One kitchen wall was knocked down to make it easier for the kitchen staff to better come and go.

“It’s more efficient, and it’s more effective,” Guzman said. “The flow really wasn’t that good, so it was harder for my staff to maneuver some of the carts around the corner. Now it is easier for them to pass things right through to each other.”

There are more ovens and some are a combination of a steamer and a convection oven.

Students used to eat on disposable trays, but the addition of a dishwater in the kitchen means they now have washable trays.’

“We are trying to be more environmentally conscious,” Guzman said.

Guzman changed the menu, removing less healthy items and replacing them with better fare.

“We make homemade soups a lot,” Guzman said.

“We do have a lot of vegetarians as well, so we try to make sure we do grilled cheese and we will do a soup with no meat or no animal-based broth. Like today, as far as it being cold, they love the soups. Everybody is going to get soup.”

As part of the renovation, a separate snack room was also added.

Sallie B. Howard School is a Community Eligible Provision School, which means all of the students eat for free.