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Guest Blogger: Emilio

April 1st. A date marked on the calendars of many in hopes of avoiding the shenanigans of friends who, on this one day, feel they have attained a Master of Arts in Pranking, and plan to demonstrate their skills on each other. Because of the extremes people sometimes choose to take them, I believe pranking has become more hurtful than hilarious. Home videos goes viral with titles like “OMG HE ALMOST DIED,” or “PRANKS GONE WRONG,” with images of a kid getting punched in the face. Steepletown staff wanted to bring back the old school style prank to show how a harmless pranks can rouse some great comedy.

Students in the Culinary Leadership Academy (CLA) have recently disclosed they are experiencing test anxiety as the ServSafe Certification test date is nearing. They all have continued to exceed expectations of the Chefs and their Youth Advocates not only in their academia, but in their workplace behaviors too. Like many youth and young adults, just the sound of the word “test” makes them cringe. Images of a timer, bubble sheet, and freshly sharpened #2 pencils are inserted into their brains. Noting says “TEST” louder than a freshly sharpened #2 pencil. So for a good laugh, and chance to just make it through an “Oh crap!” moment, we fabricated a ServSafe Entrance Examination.

As Jane and I stood in the front of the activities room trying our best to appear anxious and nervous, one by one the students came in and reflected the same concerned look we had portrayed. Everyone sat down at their own table. In front of them was an unfamiliar red folder with what seemed to be a stapled packet inside, and…..yes, a freshly sharpened #2 pencil. We discussed with them a “requirement” of foundational knowledge/benchmarks to be demonstrated before allowing them to participate in a study group with the Gilmore Collection prior to taking the ServSafe – something all of the students had all been looking forward to utilizing for last minute question and clarification.

“We are so confident in all of you,” Jane explains, “It’s just that. Well. It’s really important that you pass this test.” Looking around and seeing the faces of ‘Wait, what?!’ I declared to the group, “Ok everyone. No talking. The test starts….NOW.” Simultaneously opening their packets, it began…

Question 1. Which is a biological contaminant?
a) Bones in a chicken fillet
b) Ciguatoxin in red snapper
c) Metal shavings in a can of peaches
d) Tomato juice served in a pewter pitcher

Question 2. What is a TCS food?
a) Saltines
b) Bananas
c) Sprouts
d) Coffee

Question 3. What is todays date?
a) 04/01/2014
b) 4/1/2014
c) April 4th, 2014
d) April Fool’s Day!

Question 4. Who still thinks this is a real test?
a) Isiah
b) Alex
c) Derrick
d) Darrell

Question 5. Who is going to pass the ServSafe test?
a) Jessica
b) Caleb
c) No one
d) Everyone
By Question 3, we had some confused faces, but Jane nor I would budge just yet. After a few chuckles from a few different students, Darrell looks up and says, “Waaaaait a minute.” Immediately, the rooms bursts into laughter, followed by the expected “Ahh, man!! I forgot that that was today!”

The smiles and laughter were great, and the students were anxious to keep the prank going. So as a group, we decided to show some pranking love to our partners at Kitchen Sage. Isiah marched across the street to the kitchen where he confronts Chef Justin, presenting himself as highly upset for having his time wasted on a childish prank. Before I go further, I need to be rather candid about this scenario. Isiah has actually had a few meltdowns throughout this experience with the CLA, which have led to semi-heated arguments with others. So for him to be upset over taking a fake test isn’t necessarily expected, but plausible. With that said, Chef immediately takes a familiar approach to mediate the situation and calm Isiah. Before he can finish his sentence, the rest of the students walk in and go straight to their time sheets, declaring they too have had enough and quit. Jane and I walk in seconds after, and play as though we are trying to regroup everyone and apologize for the prank. Justin, who has been battling some flu-like symptoms, looks as though he is ready to either collapse or explode. I explain to the group, “Listen. We’re so sorry for pulling a prank on you all this morning. We thought it would be funny, and I think we can really argue that it was funny. But we can’t argue that it was funnier than pranking Chef Justin now.” Without moving an inch of his body, Chef Justin’s wide-eyed glare shifts from the group to me. Not sure of his reaction, the students wait until he processes the moment and finds words to express his emotion. Breaking a smirk and slowly shaking his head from left to right, Chef repeats, “You, you, you, you…” laughter erupts once again. We all start reenacting each other’s moments of being had.

Jane notices Isiah doesn’t seem as joyful as the rest of the group. For someone who typically wears his emotions on his sleeve, something didn’t feel right. She approaches him to check if something was troubling him. Isiah gazes at the ground and says, “Ms Jane, you know what? You’re right.” Having had so many conversations with all of the students, Jane was unsure of what she is being accused as being correct. “I can actually feel myself getting legitimately mad,” Isiah finishes. A few weeks back, Isiah found himself frustrated with how another crew member was behaving. He met with Jane soon after to discuss his irritation with what had happened, but continued into a frenzy of anger. Utilizing motivational interviewing, Jane worked to identify with Isiah what seemed to be his tendency to get himself angrier for unrelated reasons. At that time, it was only words spoken with Ms. Jane. But now, as Isiah had went on to say, “I feel it. It’s crazy that I’m actually getting mad when this was just meant to be a prank.”

That moment – that’s what took the joy of the day from strictly playful to personal. Yes, it is challenging to actively measure our awareness to our own emotions and behaviors. So for this young man to verbalize the sensation he was feeling is not only a great moment of self-reflection, but it also works to reduce some of the ‘grey’ in his life; and provides more options when faced with irritable times. Do old habits die hard? Yes. But that is why attendance has been at 100%. Is it true that we learn something new every day? I hope so. But what if that ‘something’ we learn is about ourselves? These young folks are getting a better understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, successes and shortcomings. Everyday. 365. Even on that one day of the year we showcase our already Mastery of Pranking.

CLA April Foll's Day Test