Posted by: Zeta Heiter | April 15, 2011

Pacifica High School – Culinary Arts Academy

A couple of years ago (during the 2008/09 school year), I had the opportunity to visit many different grantee sites to observe their programs and interview their staff regarding their experiences with project implementation. These site visits were distributed all over the state of California and I learned a lot from all of them. As with any set of experiences, though, there were highlights, and one of the highlights of my site visits that year was getting to see Pacifica High School’s Culinary Arts Academy, a CPA.

Among the types of programs funded by CTE Pathways Initiative are California Partnership Academies, otherwise known as CPAs. CPAs are modeled as a three year program, for students in grades 10-12, and are structured as “schools within a school.” The model originated with the Philadelphia Academies in the late 1960s, and spread to California in the early 1980s. Academies are designed to create a close family-like atmosphere for students and staff, integrating academic and career technical education and establishing viable business partnerships. When we visited Pacifica High School in Oxnard, CA to observe their culinary arts CPA, we found exactly that.

Pacifica High School modified their long-time ROP culinary program into a Culinary Arts Academy last year. In a CPA, students aren’t enrolled in academic classes on the school’s mainstream master schedule. Rather, they take their “core” academic classes with teachers who work specifically with the CPA students. Pacifica High’s Academy’s focus on food preparation is mirrored by the core academic teachers who tailor their classes to correspond to the food lessons, in an effort to keep the academic curriculum relevant and meaningful for students.

To accomplish this, core academic teachers meet with the academy’s advisory committee that includes professional chefs, restaurant owners, and representatives from the local community college, to solicit ideas on ways to include culinary topics in academic lessons.  Some of the suggestions have been:

  • Science/Biology: Connect kitchen assignments to the science projects. Focus on recipes that include strawberries when studying the DNA of strawberries.
  • Social Studies: Discuss why there are embargos on certain ingredients or local agricultural and environmental issues.
  • English: In addition to the literature read by all students, assign reading from books with a culinary interest (i.e., The Immoveable Feast).

Keeping up with class assignments is a high priority, and Pacifica High’s CPA students receive extra support.  Students gather their grades from all their teachers on Wednesdays.  On Thursdays, Ms. Howe, the lead academy teacher speaks with all the core teachers about the assignments due and determines which students are missing work.  Academy students attend a study hall after school to complete any missing work and stay until everything is done.

But it’s not just about the academic curriculum and the skills gained in the culinary courses. Pacifica High’s Culinary Academy puts itself to the test in the real world with the help of its industry partners. The academy places its students in internships with industry partners, and uses these internships to give students actual industry experience as well as to identify any weaknesses in the program.  Partners report back about gaps in student knowledge or skills and what isn’t working for them and the program adjusts to address the needs.  For example, partners told the program that the largest barriers to hiring students are their spelling difficulties and inability to take fast notes.  Spelling and note-taking then became a focus for the academy to ensure their students are employable.

In the end though, what I found most compelling about Pacifica’s Culinary Academy is the connection it fosters in the students.  The students spoke of their connection to other academy students, to students in non-academy classes, to the school in general and to their community.  They are invested in each other and help each other succeed.  There is something special about this program, and it’s more than the smell of chocolate souffles that permeates the air.

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