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SIMI VALLEY : 4th- and 5th-Graders Run a Cafe as a Learning Experience

She slipped once or twice and licked her fingers, but Jessica Seemann looked like a veteran waitress Friday as she patiently leaned her hip against the table when her customer insisted on retotaling his bill.

Jessica took it well when her father corrected her math. Learning was the whole idea of Cafe 212, a unique classroom experiment at Simi Valley’s Atherwood Elementary School in which 27 gifted fourth- and fifth-grade students ran their own restaurant.

Instead of a $26 bill for lunch, Glenn Seemann’s addition showed that the family owed $27.25. But his fourth-grade daughter’s calculator proved them both wrong. The final bill was $26.75.

“I thought we already paid,” teased Ed van Vlymen, 71, when his granddaughter, Cindy, presented the bill. She recognized the dodge and kept her composure.

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“You pay at the cash register when you leave,” said Cindy, 10.

Any profits from the project, financed by teacher Ellen Weitz, will go toward a class treat, Weitz said.

“Maybe a big pizza party, or something where somebody else makes the food,” an exhausted Weitz quipped as the two-hour lunch rush wound down.

Ambience was not the order of the day as the excited youngsters scrambled to be the most efficient cook, server, host or cashier. They squeezed past each other with crowded trays and scanned tables for empty plates.

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“Can I take this away? Is there anything you need?” said Garrett Del Valle, 10, a polite and hustling fourth-grade busboy.

About 70 relatives and school employees pre-ordered from the lunch menu which included Chinese chicken salad for $3.25, lasagna for $3 and apple pie a la mode for $1.50. The students figured the cost of each item and priced a reasonable profit margin, Weitz said.

“The service has been so professional. Who trained these kids? It’s unbelievable,” said Shauna Del Valle, a mother and satisfied customer.

“Can I make a reservation for tomorrow?”

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