For a couple days in April, St. Ursula Hall at Most Blessed Sacrament School was transformed into Italian and Mexican restaurants, complete with hostesses, servers, busboys, cashiers and live entertainment. Although Olive Garden and Superior Grill have nothing to worry about.

Yet.

Fourth graders participating in Junior Achievement got real-life lessons in the restaurant business by running, each for one day, My Mom’s Spaghetti and De la Padre’s eateries on campus.

Junior Achievement teaches financial literacy, entrepreneurship and work readiness, said Paula Dawson, JA president for Greater Baton Rouge and Acadiana.

Fourth-grade teacher Rebecca Daigle, who instituted the program in her class a year ago, decided to take it to the next level.

“It’s all hands-on and engagement,” Daigle said. “Instead of doing it in a … book, you learn about it through real-life simulation.”

Students taught by Daigle and Rebecca Miller came up with the restaurant themes and names, created menus and made commercials. Brian Nizzo, vice president at First American Bank, spoke to students about creating an expense report and gave advice on how much money they’d need to get started. Scott Robb, of the Bionic Monkey advertising agency, talked about advertising, after which they made a commercial.

“It’s been a big team effort,” Daigle said. “We added how much one meal per person would cost to make sure we would cover our expenses and make a profit. We don’t want to take a loss. That’s before any tips.”

The 55 students were the biggest part of the team.

Each student wrote a résumé and applied for jobs in the restaurants, with Daigle doing the hiring. Manager and waiter were the most popular positions. The only thing the students didn’t participate in was food preparation. Parents cooked the food, but a student kitchen staff plated the meals when the orders came in.

Cameron Raacke, 10, greeted parents who showed up and escorted them to their tables.

“I wanted to be the manager,” she said, “but I kind of like being the hostess. You don’t always have to do what you want, but whatever you do will be fun.”

Among those customers were Melissa Falcon and Ed Firor, the mother and grandfather of Will Bethea, who was a waiter.

“He’s been really excited about it,” his mom said.

The purpose, of course, was for it to be as educational as it was enjoyable. Part of what they learned were the terms of business, Daigle said.

“Entrepreneurship: What does that mean?” Daigle said. “Revenue, profit — even though there are definitions they can memorize, they don’t really get a grasp or understand them until doing a simulation like this. Starting a small business, running it, making sure all your ducks are in a row. It’s to learn it and not just memorize."

The students took things seriously, Daigle said, coming up with ideas to improve profits.

"They were very cute with ideas for the profit: adding more tables, adding a kids menu, more food options," she said.

Parents told her that their children were nervous about their job interviews.

"They learned how to work as a team," Daigle said. "They all had their individual jobs, which were all very important. … They are engaged. It is their project. They put all their work into it, and their creativity really played a big role in it.”


Follow George Morris on Twitter, @GWMorris.