Bendigo Senior Secondary College: Cooking up opportunities

Bendigo Senior Secondary College (BSSC) in 2013 wanted to provide its students with opportunities to develop the English language and social skills needed for later transition into further study and career pathways. Through its involvement with the Refugee Education Support Program (RESP) the school developed the successful Karen Kitchen (now called Cultural Café) to meet those objectives.

A Year 11–12 school with 1,700 students, BSSC is a large provider of VCE, VCAL and VETiS. In 2013, many of the school’s 40 students of refugee backgrounds, mostly Karen (from Myanmar – formerly Burma), were in the VCAL program, which included an EAL program.

The RESP team consisted of an assistant principal, VCAL EAL teacher and homework club coordinator. They knew that Bendigo’s status as a tourist city meant restaurant and cafe work would provide employment opportunities for many students once they finished school. The team came up with ‘Karen Kitchen’ as an integrated curriculum approach that also had future student transition in mind.

Every Friday, students cooked lunch for teachers who had ordered meals from the menu two days previously. In the lead-up to Friday, students developed their English skills in the process of reading the orders, and then travelled with teachers to source the ingredients. Students met and engaged with shopkeepers and, when cooking day arrived, developed teamwork as meals were prepared. Once the lunches were ready, students delivered the meals to teachers.

The school was pleased with the way the initiative helped students not only enhance their English language skills, but also to engage with adults in ways that would be of assistance when the time came to transition out of VCAL. Students who had previously struggled with everyday environments such as banks and shops became confident and capable, and Bendigo locals came to know and further appreciate the students – and their families – as part of the local community.

Some students obtained part-time work at restaurants and cafes as a result of their involvement in Karen Kitchen, and the project inspired other VCAL teachers and students to build planter boxes to cultivate vegetables for use in the kitchen. A market day was also held annually, during which students sold this produce and gave money to causes that they had chosen.

A few years later, Karen Kitchen was renamed Cultural Café to reflect Bendigo’s diversity.