Erin Guardi, a senior at Downers Grove South High School, Illinois, wasn’t planning to take a cooking class. She said she was enrolled in a Spanish 4 class the day before school started, but then decided why take a stressful Spanish course?
“I said, let’s do something fun.... Let’s do something that I’ve never done before that’s interesting, so I decided to take culinary, ” she said.
Guardi was baking blueberry muffins with her team of four in her 8am culinary class with family and consumer science teacher Brooke Emmens on a recent Thursday morning.
The classroom has gone from the 1950s to the 21st century with a US$1.24mil (RM5.1mil) renovation of the culinary labs at the school.
The spaces are designed to give students an experience similar to what they see on Food Network competition programmes, with six work stations on large islands that face a teacher demonstration station at the front of the class.
Monitors hang above the islands to display recipes, videos and footage from the teacher demonstration station caught on cameras mounted above the demo space.
To put it another way, this isn’t the home economics class of yesteryear. And it’s bringing young people in to taste and test.
Emmens’ class had 24 students running stations, each person rotating a job duty, from team leader (donning a blue chef’s coat) to cleanup. At the sound of the bell, kids were flipping their muffins from the tins. Have snack, will travel to the next class.
And according to Henry Thiele, Community High School District 99 superintendent, this is a trend in schools – contemporising older school areas for a different way of learning.
“Yes, it’s an absolute trend. Schools that are remodelling these spaces are doing similar things to what we’re doing here, ” he said. “I went and visited other schools in the area that had done these changes within the last five years or so, so we’re not the first to do it at all.”
The space is one of two new labs this school year, part of the school district’s US$136.6mil (RM564mil) remodelling. Downers Grove North will complete its new culinary lab during the 2020-21 school year.
When construction is complete on both campuses, demonstration kitchens will be connected to the culinary labs.
The new facilities are designed to look and function more like commercial kitchens for classes geared towards students interested in culinary careers.
And for those not in class, windows to the class will allow passersby to see the cooking action.
The demonstration kitchens will be completed in fall 2020. Darien-based Wight & Co is behind the design and construction of the culinary arts facilities in each school.
The firm is also working with Maine Township High School District 207 on similar updates and putting its culinary stamp on the Winnetka campus of New Trier High School with a hands-on food lab.
“It’s part of the vibe of the school, to put learning on display, including the culinary arts, ” said Kevin Havens, director of design at Wight & Co. “Students are excited about the idea of learning how to be chefs, how to cook or just to make a healthier lifestyle for themselves, and they’re learning by watching things like Hell’s Kitchen.
“The schools are trying to model what’s going on in that kind of environment because they’re more engaged, frankly. That’s really the impetus behind this: Make the spaces more in tune with this new idea about how education can be delivered.”
Freshman Reaghan Staehely attests to that. She bakes at home and loves to watch baking championships, like Netflix’s Sugar Rush and Cake-Off competitions on the Food Network. All of that led her to sign up for one of the four culinary courses available for Downers Grove South students.
“We’re responding to what students’ interests are. I think what you see on television over the last five to 10 years with the Food Network and TV competition shows on the culinary arts has really driven kids’ interests in the field, ” Thiele said. “I think student interest is higher than it has been in the past.”
Patrick Fardy, Career and Technical Education Department chair with the district, said culinary classes are exciting for students because they are usually hands-on and take kids out of the traditional classroom setting. And they get to eat.
“It’s cool because it’s a break in your day. You have all the academic work, and you finally get to have fun – and eating.... Everybody loves eating, ” said junior Joe Cosenza. “I like to make breakfast and sometimes dinner for my family, so this class has been very helpful – it’s a life skill to know.” – Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service
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