Little Diner Enables Special Students to Put Life Skills on the Front Burner

Article excerpt

Byline: Terri Tabor Daily Herald Staff Writer

It has been around longer than many of Elgin's downtown restaurants. But still, many people do not know about this little diner.

This diner does not exist for a profit - the rewards it reaps are the students it prepares for the work force.

Located on the fourth floor in a former science lab of the old Elgin High School - now called Central School - the Central SWEP diner has been serving employees at Central School, Gifford Street Alternative High School and the Elgin Area School District headquarters for 20 years.

SWEP, which stands for Secondary Work Experience Program, helps prepare special education students, ranging in age from 18 to 21, for jobs in the community.

The program centers on the diner, where students not only learn how to prepare food, but also learn a number of skills such as punctuality, cooperation and following directions - all things that will help them hold jobs once they exit the high school program.

"Our whole goal is to get them trained to have a job in the community. This is a real setting," said Laurie Stage, a teacher in the SWEP program.

Over the last 20 years, the diner has grown from a cart of sandwiches that students wheeled around school and district offices to a full-fledged, self-efficient take-out business that serves breakfast, lunch and "munchies."

The menu offers a variety of foods such as bagels, sausage and biscuits, nachos, pizza puffs, burgers, hot sandwiches, cold sandwiches, soups and salads. …