The lunch bell rings. Instantly, hordes of students and staff begin lining-up in the Sutherland Secondary School Cafeteria. Wafting inside through open doors from the outside patio is the hunger inducing smell of sautéed onions and barbecued hotdogs.
"They swarm in like bees," explains Daniel, assistant manager of hotdog day.
Hotdog day at Sutherland Secondary is a tradition dating back to 1990. This school year, school staff decided to formalize the program as an incredibly valuable work experience opportunity for students with special needs. Every Thursday, students in the Learning Support Classroom get to work to prep, sell and serve barbecued hotdogs at 12:35 p.m. sharp.
"There is a job and task for every student regardless of ability," says Natalie Hagarty, Learning Support Teacher.
Daniel, Assistant Manager of Hotdog Day, shows the hotdogs that are about to be cooked on the BBQ
The students in the program are involved in all aspects of the weekly hotdog day. From shopping, to inventory, to maintaining the budget, and then the actual day-of tasks, students do it all, along with the support of the Learning Support Classroom staff. The program has formal job descriptions and tasks, offering students pre-requisite skills for work experience placements out in the community. Students are also provided with the opportunity to interact with the broader school community on a weekly basis in a meaningful way. The hotdog day uniform is loved by everyone in the school. Blue and white t-shirts adorned with a cartoon hotdog are a sure sign that it is Thursday, and as the hotdog day workers wear them throughout the day, students high-five them in the hallways and speak with them about the program.
"The hotdog day program really gives our students exposure as important members of our school community," says Hagarty.
Overall, students are excelling under the revamped hotdog day venture. Just like in a regular workplace, students are able to move up to other jobs – like Daniel who is now assistant manager.
Daniel is a grade 11 student with Down Syndrome and while his favourite part of hotdog day is eating a hotdog himself, he also loves seeing how happy the program makes other students and staff.
"I like the looks on their faces," he says. "Sometimes it makes me dance," he adds before breaking into dance.
Each week, more than 100 hotdogs are sold. At $3.00 each, the program makes roughly $300-$400 a week. All of the proceeds get reinvested into the Learning Support Classroom for things such as technology, subsidized fieldtrips and resources. Already this school year, more than $7000 has been raised.
Hotdog day workers eat hotdogs with North Vancouver School District Superintendent Mark Pearmain