Lunch at a restaurant may be a daily ritual for some people, but for a group of Van Buren Freshman Academy students, it served as an opportunity to practice important life skills and social interaction.

On Jan. 27, Van Buren School District special education teachers Anna Booth and Sarah Stokes took their students to lunch at Oliver’s Kitchen in downtown Van Buren.

The two organized the field trip so that the students could apply skills that they have been working on in the classroom in a public setting.

“Our students may or may not ever be able to attend college or even hold jobs that are not in sheltered workshops,” Booth said. “It is our job to teach them how to be productive members of society by getting them in the community and practicing social skills in real time.”

Just as any other diners, the students had several responsibilities during their lunch.

“The students have to verbalize what they want to eat, which is a challenge for some of them,” Booth said. “They must make sure they have enough money to cover their meal, and they must calculate the tax and tip on their bills. This is a life skill that many people overlook.”

The outing was made possible by a grant from the Van Buren Education Foundation to support the class’s “Life Skills in the Real World” project. Booth and Stokes are grateful both to the organization and to Oliver’s for helping make the field trip such a success.

“We greatly appreciate the Van Buren Education Foundation funding this project and giving us a way to extend learning outside the classroom,” Booth said. “We are also grateful to Oliver’s for hosting this lunch and for working with us in the weeks prior to prepare a special menu for the event. Our students and schools are fortunate to have such tremendous support from the community.”