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Staff-Student Connections: Stephanie Ross of Wave Crest Cafe

Stephanie Ross has been the Cafeteria Lead at T.H.E. Leadership Academy for the past 11 years and worked with Vista Unified’s CNS department for 23 years. She is very aware of the importance of her role and influence in a special place outside the classroom. 

“I do feel like I’m teaching the children because I’m teaching them to be kind, courteous, and considerate,” she explains. 

Ross’s thoughtfulness and ethos are clearly working. One student, Mia, a second-grader, says, “Miss Stephanie is really nice and she’s kind. She helps us when we need something. And she helps us when we’re sad, mad, or emotional and when something’s not fair and we’re crying. She comes and hugs us and I’m really happy when she does that. She’s a very, very nice lunch lady.”


Setting A Kind Tone Each Day

One important element of Ross’s role that many parents may not realize or appreciate starts as soon as students arrive at school. “Mornings are the best time to check in with the children,” she explains. “They get here and sometimes they’re sad, or they just need something to eat, or just tell someone what happened - like if their sister wasn’t nice to them that morning or wouldn’t come with them to breakfast. I like those interactions, and to be a part of their day and help them have a good one.”

Remembering back to when she was a mom of young children, Ross emphasizes the importance of morning time in a child’s life. “My mother-in-law taught me that, because when I was a young mom there were mornings when I was just grouchy. She was the sweetest woman and I try to emulate her.”

“Now I know that any interaction kids have in the morning are going to shape their entire day. So no matter what’s going on with me, I try to make sure they feel love coming from me.”

Connecting To The Classroom

Ross says she follows the school’s ‘Leader In Me’ guidelines that are taught to empower students to advocate for themselves. “We go by ‘Begin with the end in mind’, so I try to incorporate that into our interactions.

“For example, when kids don’t necessarily think they want to take a fruit at breakfast, I say ‘well, it’s a good idea that you have that so that later on you’re not hungry at snack time, because you won’t be able to come back then’. 

“I try to set the kids' day up with what they eat and make them know they have choices,” she continues. “I think they’re stoked about that. They like to be able to come to their little café in the morning and have their bagels, or hot food, or they can choose cereal. They may not be able to do that at home and so this could be their first experience of having those choices.”

Creating A Welcoming Environment

Ross says that while the cafeteria atmosphere can be loud, she works hard to make sure all kids feel welcome and at ease there. “There’s all kinds of stuff going on all the time!” she laughs. “There are clubs going on, people being tutored; it’s a combination of things. But I try to have the kids behave as they would if they went out to lunch with their parents.

“I’m trying to teach them how to eat together. It’s exciting to be here and let them know they can pick their own food and we try to make it a comfortable environment for everyone. Even though we’re outside, we want to use our indoor voices.” Ross also encourages students to clean up after themselves. “It’s just the new experience of being alone at mealtime without mom or dad to make those choices.

“We get them when they’re brand new,” she smiles. “And we get to give them their first experience of all the different choices they have. That’s exciting too; to teach them about fruits and vegetables they’ve never had and hear what their feedback is.”

Ross says she has fun experiences with the children every day: “I just love to see the world through their eyes. Like finding out that they tasted a blood orange for the first time, and that they thought it was really good even though they thought it was going to be yucky.”

A fellow student, Ethan, echoes Mia’s sentiments. “Miss Stephanie is very kind because she helps kids when they’re hungry. She tries to make everything fair at the cafeteria and she makes sure that everybody has a good time over there. It’s a win/win for the cafeteria ladies, Miss Stephanie, and the children!”