BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – The Elliott Test Kitchen is testing a new kitchen.
The Fort Madison concept, started by chef and restaurateur Kumar Wickramasingha in 2014 in downtown Fort Madison, is branching out to provide students in Burlington with a chance to experience the unique concept in “after-school studying”.
And Catfish Bend Casinos is coming on to help make the expansion a reality. The Test Kitchen will now be offered at the Burlington Uptown Ivy, 514 Jefferson on Thursday night with area teachers, Andrew Troxel of Fort Madison, Barbara Carroll of Burlington and Will Fullenkamp, a substitute in the Holy Trinity Catholic System.
Wickramasingha said his program started with Troxel at the Fort Madison location and several other local teachers.
“Andrew actually started developing an ACT program with Barbara. She’s from Burlington and has some great experience in doing ACT prep in after-school settings,” Wickramasingha said. “She came and helped Andrew in his last two classes and she’ll be working Thursdays at the Uptown Ivy in Burlington with Will.”
He said he spoke with Uptown Ivy owner Martha Wolf, who previously owned the Ivy Bake Shoppe in Fort Madison and currently has the Ivy Bake Shoppe at the Shottenkirk Superstore in West Burlington.
“I’ve known Martha for years and she knows what I’m about. I talked with her about possibly expanding in the Burlington area and she just said, ‘No problem. Let’s do it at my place.’,” Wickramasingha said. “I’m very honored that she understood and supports what I’m doing here.”
The Sri Lanka native said ACT prep takes place all over the country, but he says the meal aspects are what makes the Test Kitchen’s unique.
“Iowa City has ACT prep, Chicago has ACT prep. Mine is different as I incorporate food. These students will be treated to awesome meals cooked by Martha,” he said.
“Normally you go to a classroom setting, ‘Oh God, I have to go to ACT prep.’, but that’s not what this is. It’s good food in a welcoming environment. I wouldn’t do this without the food portion.”
Wolf said the program in Burlington will be mainly the prep and then we’ll provide a meal to the students whereas the Fort Madison location will actually incorporate the students into the cooking at different times and for different events.
“He contacted me with the overwhelming support he’s had with his first effort in Fort Madison and said he had had some interest in Burlington so he approached me. I kind of saw it as a win-win opportunity for them to help get the preparation they need and at the same time get our name out there a bit,” Wolf said.
She said the whole college testing process has changed so much, students need to find advantages where they can.
“Just prepping for the whole process. I remember.. a lot of years ago…we won’t say how many, but a lot of years ago you had no idea what you were doing. And now there are these resources available,” Wolf said. “Kids in bigger communities may be acclimated and are taking prep to help their scores. They’re not necessarily smarter or more prepared but have been prepped.”
The first session will take place next Thursday, Feb. 16 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at 514 Jefferson Street at the Burlington Uptown Ivy, 319-754-5924.
Catfish Bend To Sponsor
“It’s exciting to watch the results as Kumar and his team have focused on improving ACT scores, as well as expanded learning in math, reading, science and other programs to strengthen the core education of children in our community,” said Gary Hoyer, CEO of Great River Entertainment and Catfish Bend Casino.
“Catfish Bend supports the efforts of teachers in our schools, and is happy to be able to help expand the programs offered to students by the Test Kitchen Education Foundation through its after-school programs. The programs provide not only education enhancements and opportunities, but also focus on comradery, encouragement and sharing a meal. It’s a fun and engaging program for area students.”
The Elliott Test Kitchen is a program provided by the Test Kitchen Education Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization formed by a group of volunteers who are passionate about education. The foundation’s programs rely on donations to bring these programs to the area.
“Teaching does not end when school lets out at 3:00 p.m. and the entire community needs to be engaged in continuous efforts to improve education for young people,” said Wickramasingha.
“I am thrilled to partner with Catfish Bend Casino to expand our program in Burlington so that more area children are able to improve their ACT test results to be admitted into the best colleges in the country, earn meaningful scholarships, and succeed in their future,” said Wickramasingha.
The ACT prep course in Fort Madison has witnessed significant improvements to overall scores for students. “I needed financial support to be able to expand our program into Burlington, and Catfish Bend stepped up to the challenge immediately,” said Wickramasingha. “We hope to add more programs in Burlington in the coming months beyond this initial ACT prep course.”