Originally Published by the Pen City Current on September 8th, 2018. Written by Chuck Vandenburg.

FORT MADISON – Rolling over four years of helping local students with specialized studies and exposing them to culinary arts, the Elliott Test Kitchen is seeing growth beyond founder Kumar Wickramasingha’s expectations.

At his fourth open house since 2015, Wickramasingha says he’s gone from about 30 students in various initial programs to more than 200 this year. Although he says some of the 200 registered may be the same students registering for different sessions, he says he has to look at them individually because he feeds students while they are at programs.

“My philosophy was that prior after-school programs were kind of looked at as something like a punishment and I want to break that. I want them to come in and feel welcomed and we’ve been working on that.”

Part of the new growth, “STEMS” from a new program that is currently underway with more than 60 students signed up. Wickramasingha has teamed up with the Fort Madison High School’s Robotics Club.

“This year we’re doing something different on Monday,” he said. “Last year, the FMHS started CyberHounds, a school robotics club. They had to raise money for that and they went to the highest competitions in the state. I had them bring them their robotics stuff to our open house at the middle school last week and kids were excited about that.”

The CyberHounds got up and running during the last school year and now the Test Kitchen will be the headquarters for the club’s work and fundraising activities.

“Now those students will be bringing their stuff in here on Monday which will be their headquarters for CyberHounds,” Wickramasingha said. “We told them at our open house at the middle school any kids that want to learn robotics can come over here and those high school kids will come and do some activities with them. At the same time they will can work on sponsorships. Now you make these young kids part of what you’re doing and then you start to get the whole community involved. We’ll make some t-shirts and start creating awareness and then their club can grow and sponsorships will come along with that.”

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