Learning life-skills with barbecue

"Two corn dogs with fries," first-grader Naara Contressa yelled with confidence to the open food truck window.

Heather Cavaliero promptly handed the order over to the younger-than-normal waitress.

For a unit on producers and consumers, J. Blaine Blayton first-grade teacher Kelly Kelly thought why not learn by doing? So she worked with Suck on This BBQ, a Toano-based food truck owned by TJ and Heather Cavaliero, to give students real-world experience buying and selling.

Naara and Connie Cheeseman were two of the students taught how to take food orders from their classmates and shout them up to Heather Cavaliero, who ran the kitchen for the hour-long lunch Tuesday.

The girls took turns taking orders before switching with other classmates. Students chose between corn dogs and chicken nuggets, and a pile of fries was included with each meal.

"It feels like you're an adult," Connie said. "(Working in a food truck) just sounds like fun."

Kelly said the idea to bring the truck for lunch grew out of a producers and consumers project she was doing with her class, which includes Cavaliero's son, Gunner. She said the lunch was also a kind of year-end celebration, so she got the whole grade level involved.

"This is real learning, this is everything from ordering food, estimating how much food you need, supply and demand," Kelly said. "To (provide food) for the whole first grade level, it's really generous."

The Cavalieros donated the food and the time so the students could experience ordering food and taking lunch orders. The students were originally going to exchange tickets for the food as well, but eagerness for food and general end-of-year excitement took hold of everyone.

"It's the second-to-last week of school, so this was great. This is an end-of-year celebration and they're working together, collaborating," Kelly said. "(TJ and Heather Cavaliero) are so personable with the kids, it makes it special."

Naara said yelling the orders were her favorite part, it made her feel like she was working like adults do. First-grader Amiri Utley was on the other side of the exchange.

"My favorite part was when I got my food. I got a corn dog, fries, chips and apple juice," Amiri said while in line for watermelon. "It was fun, (the food) was good."

It was all about consuming and producing, which Amiri said meant "to buy something and to get something, we got food."

Mahi'liyah Crew also ate a corn dog and fries. Like Amiri, her favorite part of the experience was eating, but it wasn't her only takeaway.

"I think it was pretty nice of the person giving us the food," Mahi'liyah said. "(Ordering the food) was easy, it was cool."

After the corn dogs and chicken nuggets, Heather Cavaliero cooked up brisket and pork for the teachers.

Suck on This BBQ has been in business four years, but this was the first collaboration with the school. TJ Cavaliero said the food truck can often be found at local breweries and community events, like swim meets, pool parties and picnics.

TJ Cavaliero said he hopes the students take the experience back to their parents, to make them more willing to try food trucks — an unconventional and wildly popular way to eat.

"Maybe a kid today will end up becoming a chef, will go to culinary school," TJ Cavaliero said. "If I can think I had something to do with that, then donating a few hundred bucks is a drop in the bucket to me."

Williams can be reached by phone at 757-345-2341.

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