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Orange Glen Students Get a Taste of Life Skills in Culinary Arts Program

When people talk about student readiness, they are usually referring to academic skills. At Orange Glen High School in Escondido, in addition to top academics, many students are graduating with practical skills too. For over 20 years, Orange Glen has offered culinary arts classes. Eight years ago, they expanded their program when they built a commercial kitchen that gives students real-life experiences prepping, preparing, and cooking in an actual restaurant-style kitchen. This training also provides certification that allows students to work in any restaurant or food service establishment when they complete the courses.

Students cook together in the commercial kitchen

Culinary Arts teacher Kristi Sovacool has been teaching at Orange Glen for over 11 years. She believes students are getting unique skills and hands-on training in part because of the commercial-grade kitchen at the school. “We pride ourselves on training students if they want to go into the food and hospitality industry. Our commercial kitchen looks like the back of a restaurant.”

Orange Glen offers four courses in culinary arts including Culinary Arts and Food Science, International Cuisine, Baking and Pastries, and Advanced Culinary Arts and Restaurant Management. All students in grades nine to12 are allowed to enroll in every class, but Culinary Arts and Food Science is the prerequisite to the upper-level classes. All classes meet the requirement for general elective in practical arts.

These classes offer students advanced skills in cooking and so much more. Sovacool stressed that these classes really strive to create students who are critical thinkers and problem solvers. In addition to prepping, cooking, and tasting foods weekly, the curriculum includes quite a bit of reading and writing. “Students are always shocked to find that out.” she said,“We see the value of students getting better at their reading and writing skills in a subject that might be a little more fun.”

Of course, cooking is math and science and these skills are refined in the culinary arts program. Sovacool said, “In the first level class we talk about the different ways that baking is science. For instance, they just finished an egg unit and discussed the science behind the forming of the egg white when an egg is boiled or cooked. They use their math skills in the most practical way when it comes to measuring, weighing, and considering cooking times as these tasks require the use of following directions, addition, multiplication, and understanding fractions.”

A student prepares glassware 

Cooking is also about being prepared and organized. This is yet another skill that students learn and can incorporate into their daily lives. Sovacool said she often starts her class by saying, “Let’s mise en place!” Mise en place is a French term that means “everything in its place.” It is a phrase often used in the restaurant industry and is known throughout the cooking community. The students know this is an instruction to get their cooking station set up and in order.  Sovacool said this practice of preparing and organizing can be applied in other outlets in the student’s life including homework, sports, or work.

As far as understanding nutrition, this lesson is taught in all the classes. Students get a clear understanding of how food is categorized into proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. They learn how to substitute ingredients and the nutrition values in the things they add to their meals. Sovacool states, “One of our goals is to educate our students on what kinds of foods are healthier versus processed foods. It’s eye-opening for them when we talk about it.” Sovacool included that a big part of the education in her classes is to show her students what healthy eating looks like.

The students also learn the ins and outs of running a restaurant. Part of the curriculum includes giving back to the community through special events in the community. Past events such as a catering food for the Children's Museum in Escondido, a project with UBER eats and local restaurants, and making cookies for foster kids in the area, and visiting local retirement facilities around the holidays. 

Orange Glen High School also has a café set up on campus called Patriot’s Café. This café hosts a monthly lunch for all the staff that is prepared and served by the students. 

During the month of November, a special VIP lunch will be served to teachers and Escondido city officials so they can experience the positive learning this program continues to provide to the students. Sovacool said, “We are excited to show off our program to many of these community members!” Guests will include the mayor and deputy mayor of Escondido, many council members,City department leaders , the fire and police chief, as well as superintendents from both the Escondido Union High School District and Escondido Union School District.

Students enjoy the meal they prepared 

Soon the program hopes to include a farm-to-table aspect to the program. An after school program has sprouted a garden on campus that Sovacool hopes will provide fresh fruit and vegetables for the students to include in their recipes.

The culinary program is staffed by three teachers including Sovacool who teaches the first level course as well as Baking and Pastry. The Culinary Arts program is popular at Orange Glen with an even mix of boys and girls signing up for courses. Although they don’t have any formal records regarding how many students go on into culinary arts once they have graduated, Sovacool says she knows a handful of students who have gone into the restaurant and hospitality business. This is a plus for these students as San Diego’s tourism industry employs 194,000 San Diegans in fields directly related to hospitality, including lodging, food service, attractions, and transportation according to December 2018 reports from the Employment Development Department (EDD).

Sovacool believes this training and certification also gives back to the Escondido community. She said, “By equipping students to enter the food industry through our program,  we also hope to give back by preparing students for the workplace who might end up working in Escondido and thus contributing to the community we love.” 

A student puts finishing touches on his dish

The Escondido community has also supported the program by opening their doors to students through field trips. Some of these include: Vintana, Cute Cakes Bakery, Los Primos Mexican Food, Mike's BBQ, Broken Yolk, and The Paleta Bar. Owners of these establishments have led students on tours of their facilities, spoken with them about running a successful business in Escondido, explained how they got started, and answered questions about marketing and the business end of things. This has given students exposure to the many different types of restaurants in their community and an understanding of what it takes to work in the food industry. 

Teaching the program and working at Orange Glen High School has been a pleasure for Sovacool, who said, “Orange Glen High School has the best students. I feel we are so lucky to teach in this community and have the students we have.”

The Culinary Arts program is a CTE (Career Technical Education) pathway that provides students with an ANSI Accredited Food Handlers Card. This is a certification that is required for anyone working in the restaurant or food service industry in California and is valid for three years after completion.

Orange Glen High School offers students CTE pathways in several subjects including, Auto Tech, Media Arts, Computer Science, and Culinary Arts. Each program gives students practical skills related to their field that they can use to either enter the workforce after they graduate, or use the credits to accelerate to more advanced courses when they enter college.

Orange Glen High School offers many learning options for its students, and the Culinary Arts program continues to make applied learning a tasty option.

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