Washougal students have new ‘vehicle for learning’

School district puchases food truck to create project-based opportunities for culinary students

The Washougal School District’s career and technical education (CTE) department’s latest project is literally a vehicle for learning.

The CTE department has purchased a food truck with the goal of creating project-based learning opportunities — and, eventually, a student-led business.

“I’m sure the students are excited to expand on and show off their collective skills within the school and for our community partners,” said Washougal High School culinary and baking instructor Brenda Hitchins. “I know that I am excited to explore and create food experiences with my advanced culinary class next fall. Our building staff and community have already expressed interest in hosting the food truck at various events. The goal will be for students to get real work experience and develop their skills further than just in the classroom.”

District leaders hope that the learning opportunities will reach far beyond the development of food plans and service, however. Washougal CTE director Margaret Rice said she wants students in all of the department’s classes to learn about the “21st century skills — collaboration, partnerships and ideas — that go into the development of a business.”

“(Washougal) students will participate in all aspects of the project development,” said Alex Yost, the district’s newly hired CTE professional technical assistant. “Students will work on a business plan, learn about health department rules, navigate through local permitting and licensing, develop manuals for training and safety and even the creation of marketing. There will also be opportunities in manufacturing, welding, small engine service and repair, and maintenance for students interested in those CTE experiences.”

Once the business is up and running, the truck will be available for hire to serve community members at a variety of different events.

“I know the Port of Camas-Washougal and the city of Washougal have been very receptive to this idea,” Rice said. “We’re really excited all our partners are on board.”

Hitchins “wanted to create a meaningful real-world final project” for students when she moved to Washougal and accepted her current position in 2016. After researching a variety of time-efficient student culinary projects, she became “enamored” with the idea of a food truck, “especially since folks are familiar with this concept in the Pacific Northwest.”

One year later, she organized the school district’s first “Food Truck Face Off” competition, in which teams of students created menus, pricing and food truck decor and vied for customers to purchase their food offerings.

“The students were taken by surprise and delighted to see what unfolded from their hard work,” Hitchins said. “The room quickly filled with staff, administration and parents as their food sold out. The students couldn’t have been more elated and proud of their accomplishments. (Washougal High) administration and staff were so pleased with the results that Margaret and I brainstormed the idea of someday expanding the concept to an actual food truck so that students could do more hands-on learning and (receive) ‘real work’ experiences.”

Rice hopes business will be around for a long time, but expects it to assume a variety of different forms along the way.

“(We want to have) opportunities for our students to redevelop it,” she said. “We don’t want a stale menu, so every few years we will (come up with) a new business plan. It’s going to continue to develop and mold itself into something amazing. Even though we have a used truck, we really are starting from scratch. Even though we have an idea of where we want this to go and what we want it to look like, we’re kind of letting go a little bit and seeing how it organically creates itself.”

Earlier this month, the CTE department launched a contest and formed a selection committee, which includes representatives from the city of Washougal and the Port of Camas-Washougal, to choose the business’ name.

“We want the name to stay generic enough that we can serve all kinds of things from this truck,” Rice said. “A lot of students have already submitted ideas. Not only do they have the opportunity to submit a name, but give us a rationale behind the name and even a concept of what they envision the truck to look like based on the name. That’s going to help us launch into the next contest, which will be around the artwork and design.”