Neon golden arches illuminate the cafeteria at Minuteman Vocational High School in Lexington, Mass. Here students learning the fast-foods business flip Big Macs and scoop fries for their patrons - some 80 percent of the student body.
Minuteman and McDonald's have joined forces to become the first partnership in the country between a public school and a private fast-food corporation. Both partners view the alliance as a timely addition to vocational education.
The idea emerged two years ago when Peter Crafts, director of food service and training at Minuteman, began looking for ways to modernize the school's kitchen and update student training. Mr. Crafts wanted to bring business and hands-on experience to the students. Because Minuteman students already operate a full-service restaurant and bakery, fast food seemed an obvious answer.
From his office tucked behind the in-school McDonald's and bombarded by the clatter and chatter of working teen-agers, Mr. Crafts explained, ''This part of the industry is growing by leaps and bounds. There are so many job opportunities in the fast-food business - I'm talking about career jobs which offer handsome salaries, not just part-time go-to-school jobs.''
The proposal for fast-food training benefited from pressures on the Minuteman kitchen, which had to serve l,000 people in an hour and a half. And rising production costs were forcing the school to consider raising the 75-cent price of school lunches.
''We were going to have to start charging $1 to $1.25, which is too much to charge a high school student, and we were still losing money,'' the food-service director continued.
Three months of searching failed to uncover any other school in the country which had tried partnering with a fast-foods producer. A few fast-food representatives were called in to see if the operation might be financially feasible. Although there were no historical data to fall back on, researchers concluded it would be an attractive risk.
With all systems go, Minuteman invited various corporations to submit proposals, from which McDonald's was chosen.
Donating instructors and the $300,000 kitchen facilities, McDonald's constructed the restaurant in seven weeks, finishing just in time for the beginning of school this fall.
Rotating groups of eight students are taught the chain's procedures. Their program telescopes into five weeks - 150 hours - what usually takes nine months to learn. The basics are spread over 16 stations. From checker to drinks, from grill to fryolater, the students prepare themselves to become managers. Videotapes and an operational textbook with tests, quizzes, and self-evaluations guide the students. Passing Level 1, proficient students head into an intensive management program of four semesters (500 hours).
''These kids are getting training they will be able to use anywhere in the food-service industry,'' said chef instructor Paul Denaro. ''The program is very complete, and I've never seen such enthusiasm among students.''
Twirling a Ronald McDonald pen, Eddie White of Sudbury summed up his view: ''I'm interested in management, and this program is great. Everything's computerized and very clear.''
Sarah Yood, a senior culinary arts major added, ''To the customer it looks like there is a lot of confusion going on in the kitchen, but with everyone at an assigned station, it is much more organized than anyone realizes.''
Asked about the nutritional value of the food the students were receiving, Peter Crafts said, ''The food the students are eating at McDonald's is as good as the regular school lunch.'' In 1978 the US Senate held hearings on this issue and approved it, as did the FDA.
Because Minuteman students must earn a high school diploma and a vocational certificate to graduate, they are assigned classes every period of the day and work an additional 2,000 hours for the certificate.