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Amid cafeteria worker shortage, Wayzata High School students step in to help

Students who work in the cafeteria get paid nearly $17 an hour and earn credit towards their diploma.

PLYMOUTH, Minnesota — Nearly every industry is feeling the impact of a worker shortage. For schools, it's affected everything from bussing to feeding kids. 

At Wayzata High School in Plymouth, their cafeteria was operating with half the staff in the beginning of the school year. 

"It was a huge struggle," said Heather Van Krevelen, deli supervisor for Wayzata Cafés. 

According to Van Krevelen, they typically have 30 employees to feed anywhere from 2,500-2,800 students each day. 

"We had such severe shortages to where our student support teams — which is our counselors, our deans, our assistant principals, and our social workers — were actually helping to serve lunch," Associate Principal Tyler Shepard said. 

Credit: Heidi Wigdahl
2,500-2,800 students go through the lines each day at Wayzata High School's cafeteria.

Last year, Wayzata High School implemented a work experience partnership where students could work while earning credit and money. They wondered if they could offer that same opportunity through Wayzata Cafés. 

"I was a little worried at first that students wouldn't want to be seen in that role with their peers but they signed on and I think that they've really found it to be rewarding," Shepard said. 

Van Krevelen said while they're still at half the regular staff, with 12-15 employees, they now have 15 students also working in the cafeteria which puts them back to their normal numbers. 

"It's really helped us fill a void for our staffing," she said. 

"It's probably one of the most enjoyable jobs I've had mostly because I get to interact with all the lunch ladies," said Rithvik Saladi, a senior at Wayzata High School. 

Credit: Heidi Wigdahl
A Wayzata Cafés employee shows senior Rithvik Saladi how to wrap the burgers for lunch on Wednesday.

Saladi has been working at Wayzata Cafés for the past two months. 

Students get paid nearly $17 per hour and credit toward their diploma for every 70 hours worked. 

"The first week it was kind of a bit awkward for me but I got to know them and it's nice. I get to say hi to them in the halls sometimes when I'm getting lunch," Saladi said. 

Junior Onyinye Anikeh comes to the cafeteria between classes to work 80 minutes, five days a week. 

"It gives me a good working experience and I also get to stay in school while doing that. My parents are more comfortable with me getting a job in school than outside of school," Anikeh said. 

On Wednesday morning, Anikeh was in the kitchen preparing rice for lunch. 

"It makes you appreciate the effort they put into it," she said. 

Shepard said he has had a couple students reach out to him asking about work for next school year. Shifts currently cover early morning through lunch, but the school hopes in the fall they can expand the program so students can help with cleanup, too. 

"I didn't think I was going to like it that much but it's pretty enjoyable," Saladi said. "I like it a lot."

Know a local business we should feature for our Behind the Business segment? Email Heidi Wigdahl at hwigdahl@kare11.com. 

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