Excel Academy students serve pre-Thanksgiving meal to homeless

Warm corn muffins.  Steaming bowls of chili. Potato salad. Macaroni and cheese. It was the perfect lunch for a crisp November day and a special treat for the homeless residents at St. John’s Hospice in Center City, prepared and served by culinary arts students of Camelot Schools’ Excel Academy South.

“Community service is an important part of our program,” said Kevin Marx, the school’s executive director.  “This is our first time doing this, but we will be doing more meals like this.  And not just at shelters, but at nursing homes, too.”

“The kids were really excited about coming here,” added Lari Luckenbill, Excel’s culinary arts teacher. “I couldn’t bring the whole class, and it was difficult narrowing it down to 15.”

The students prepared the meal in their state-of-the art kitchen at Excel South, located on the campus of Friends Hospital in Northwood. They transported the food to St. John’s, where they heated it up and cheerfully dished it out to the residents.

Culinary Arts is a brand new elective at Excel Academy, and Luckenbill had 40 students in her class, but she expects more to sign up now that word has gotten around.

“At the end of the day, the kids love to show off what we’ve made. They’ll bring the leftovers to share with their friends or favorite teachers,” said Luckenbill. Now the students are knocking on her door, asking to join the class. No experience required.

Senior Tysha Thomas, for example, had never cooked before.

“I wanted to try something new. I was scared at first that things wouldn’t turn out right, but now I’ve got everything together,” said Thomas, who is thinking of entering a culinary arts program when she graduates from Excel.

Excel Academy South Executive Director Kevin Marx, Culinary Arts Teacher Lari Luckenbill and St. John’s Hospice Social Services Supervisor Iraina Salaam join the school’s culinary arts students, who p
(Excel Academy South Executive Director Kevin Marx, Culinary Arts Teacher Lari Luckenbill and St. John’s Hospice Social Services Supervisor Iraina Salaam join the school’s culinary arts students, who p)

And that was the idea behind starting the program, says Marx.  “We wanted to give students another work-related option.” To that end, they engaged a company that specializes in commercial restaurant kitchen design to create their school kitchen. And they recruited Luckenbill, who has a master’s degree in education and a reputation as a local foodie, including an appearance on the Food Network.

“She’s a good teacher,” said Thomas. “She explains everything clearly.”

Camelot’s Excel Academies are geared for students who have either left school or are on the verge of leaving school for disciplinary or academic reasons. The schools’ accelerated academic program enables them to graduate within three years. Excel also requires each student to have a post-graduation plan of action.

Camelot also operates Shallcross, located at 3801 Woodhaven Rd. and Camelot Academy (formerly Daniel Boone) at 1435 N. 26th Street in Brewerytown to help students who have extreme disciplinary problems turn their lives around and graduate.

The Camelot Schools are privately managed. They work in partnership with the School District of Philadelphia to provide an expertise that augments the traditional curriculum offered by the public schools.

-Submitted by Camelot Schools

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