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Fifth-graders staff Rockwood restaurant

October 19, 2001|By KELLY GRANT, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — Room 28 at Rockwood Elementary School was not its ordinary self Thursday.

For a few hours the classroom transformed into El Mexicano, a Mexican restaurant staffed by fifth-graders from Ruben De La Rosa's English-language development class.

Instead of being some violation of child labor law or merely a good excuse to eat some tasty homemade Mexican food, the lunch service was actually an English-language exercise for the kids.

While the restaurant's name and style of cooking were derived from south of the border, it was an English-only operation.

"It's a good chance for them to practice their English,' De La Rosa said.

The students, in their roles as managers, hostesses, meal-time entertainers and other employees, interacted in English with patrons. The reservation list included people such Calexico Unified School District Superintendent Roberto Moreno, district board members and some lucky Rockwood staff and teachers.

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Two parent volunteers assisted cooks in the classroom's makeshift kitchen to offer a full menu of Mexican dishes.

While the prices listed on the menu were extremely reasonable, De La Rosa said they were more for show. While student cashiers weren't demanding that customers pay, they gladly accepted donations De La Rosa said would be used to supplement the class's field trip fund.

Before El Mexicano's grand opening, De La Rosa gave some young cooks a pep talk.

"What are you going to concentrate on?" he asked them.

"The food," they replied.

"And what language are you going to use?" he asked.

"English," they answered.

Diana Lopez, 10, seemed unfazed shortly before the opening. As part of the entertainment group, she said she was ready to recite an English poem to the patrons.

Elizabeth Aceves, 11, had no trouble with her new waitressing job. Apron-clad with pen and order pad in hand, Elizabeth hustled between the kitchen and dining area, taking orders and serving food.

"Enchiladas? That's all?" she asked one of her customers.

While slinging hash may not be her life's passion, Elizabeth was enjoying the day.

"It's good," she said of the restaurant lesson.

"It's real food. When we play at home it's not," she added.

Between taking orders and seating customers, students had the chance to practice their English with their adult customers.

It was a lesson everyone seemed to enjoy.

Staff Writer Kelly Grant can be reached at 337-3441.

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