Cooking Up A Better Curriculum

$4,765 of $5,000 goal

Raised by 56 people in 27 months
Who I am:

This past year, I began a new chapter in my life as I started work in one of Metro Atlanta's numerous Title 1 schools.  At this school, I teach 9th and 10th grade English Language Arts to students who, the majority of which, come to me with reading levels between 4th and 7th grade.  It is nothing like the school environment I had growing up, and it is not an environment that is always conducive to learning, but it is the school where these kids have to go and it is their only shot at getting the education they need to become the professionals and leaders that will change our community for the better down the road.  

This past year, it was a privilege and a blessing to get to know my students.  The school they have to attend is a rough place to be.  The neighborhoods they live in are tough places to survive.  The stories they brought with them and shared with me broke my heart time and time again.  

These students became my kids.  They were not some statistic.  They were not some subgroup to be objectified.  They were not some faceless part of South Metro Atlanta that had nothing to do with me.  They are my kids, and I want them to have every chance they deserve.   

To my surprise, in the midst of teaching English, I found a new way that I could help some of my most difficult kids.  In one of our bellringer assignments, I asked what they wanted to do after high school.  When I read that a good number had dreams of going into culinary arts, I found a connection with them that I hadn’t even known was there.  

When I was 8 or 9 years old, my mother told me one summer break, after I asked for something to eat, “You know where the kitchen is.”  That day I started out frying a piece of bologna and now, 26 years later, I cook roast duck for our annual Christmas Feast.  From that day on, I have developed a love of cooking that has never dwindled.  In the Boy Scouts, I cooked five course meals on campouts under the stars.  After college, I worked for a year as a cook in a restaurant kitchen.  As an adult, I continue to cook and host dinners for friends and family.  

So when I learned that some of my students had the same passion I do, I saw where I could help in a unique way.    

The limits of our current curriculum:

In recent years, our school district has made a huge push to have students be college ready when they leave.  To a degree, they give lip service about being career ready, as well; however, with a strictly liberal arts focus, this only prepares students for a narrow field of jobs.  

But this was not always the case.  Our schools used to have preparatory classes for trade jobs as well.  In fact, the school at which I work still has the defunct garage and bodyshop for the automotive class that was discontinued.  Presently, the district has a few focus schools that feature classes for only one trade or another, but this curriculum is inaccessible to students who can only go to the school in the area where their parent(s) happens to live and work.  

So as it stands, high school for many of these students is frustrating because they know that what they really need in order to prepare for the work they want won’t be found in our classrooms.  Understanding this, it’s no wonder that they act out and misbehave.  As one of our veteran teachers put it when he was speaking about how it was in the past with the trade classes, “At least then they had a reason to behave in your class when they knew it meant participating in the automotive class that they actually enjoyed and got something out of.”      

How I can help my students:

Because of my own cooking experience, I can start a Culinary Arts Club after school for those students that are looking into culinary arts as their vocation.  With my personal experience and the connections I have with other professionals in the field, I can bring my students the resources that might give them that head start and real preparation for the work they want to do after they leave my classroom.  

What our students will receive:

For their participation and commitment to the program, I want to be able to provide each student with a standard chef coat and hat.  It has been proven that when you are able to dress the part then you are more likely to play the part.  The very dress code we will require in the club will signify that what we are doing after school is no mere extracurricular game, but the serious business of preparing for a professional life.  

Through this club, we will cover basic professional kitchen skills: sanitation, food prep, plating, etc.  We will cover cooking skills that will be essential in the home kitchen and a restaurant: nutritional requirements, meal planning, sauté, sauces, soups, slow cooking, etc.  We will cover business skills: professionalism, marketing, budgeting, etc.  We will even sneak in other academic material: physical science (e.g. pressure cooking and how it works), chemical science (e.g. baking), and mathematics (e.g. measurement conversions, recipe size adjustments, and budgeting).  

While the students will not receive any credits that would show up on their academic transcripts, they will be participating in a program that they can include in their resumés to help them standout from other candidates when they apply to culinary art schools and restaurant positions.  

Lastly, this kind of program helps teach kids life skills that so many young people are lacking now.  Not only will we be teaching them how to be professionals, we’ll be teaching them how to be adults.     

What you can do to help:

To make this work, my students and I need your support.  The school where I teach has a full kitchen setup in a classroom that is perfect for teaching culinary arts, but we need more than just the kitchen space.  

Before we can get this program off the ground I will need to purchase the following materials: uniforms (chef coat and hat); knives; basic cooking utensils; pots and pans; cutting boards; measuring cups/spoons; towels; sponges; soap; basic dish-, glass-, and silverware; and ingredients.    

I will be looking for the best deals (including thrift stores and donations) on most items; and those that have to be new, such as uniforms and ingredients, I’ll be buying at the cheapest price possible.   

Here’s a basic breakdown:
Uniforms for 15 students, $30 per = $450
Pans = $75
Knives = $30
Dish service for 12 = $60
Silverware for 15 = $60
Utensils/cutting board/towels/etc. = $50
Ingredients for one year ($15 per week for 32 weeks) = $480
GoFundMe service fees = 8%
TOTAL = $1,300.00

Any donations over our goal amount will allow us to expand the program in several ways.  We can add more students.  We can take trips to visit professional kitchens.  We can teach more recipes each week.  

Where I teach:

Lastly, because this is a school so different from the ones with which many of my friends would be familiar in more affluent school districts, let me briefly share with you the school environment in which I work.  At this point, I’m not sharing just to let you know why this kind of program is so important for my kids, but it is also to help you understand why teaching where I do is so important to me.    

Our students' breakfasts and lunches are entirely subsidized so that many of them can at least get a balanced meal during the day when they cannot get one at home.  Many of our students come from low-income, single parent homes.  For these families, the most cost effective shopping list is the least healthy.  I often ask, how can a student learn when they are hungry?  

The neighborhoods in which many of my students live are torn apart by gang violence.  The violence they have to deal with at home follows them to school.  We have multiple fights throughout the school on a nearly daily basis.  I had multiple fights in my own classroom throughout the year.  I often ask, how can a student learn when they can't even feel safe?

Our classes are filled beyond capacity.  The average size of my 10th grade class was 35 students.  I had more students than I had student desks in my classroom.  All told, I was responsible for approximately 200 students each semester.  It is impossible for any teacher to give adequate individual attention to that many students.  I often ask, how can a student learn when they aren’t even given adequate space to learn?

Our district is short on funds and supplies.  When it came time for the 10th grade English classes to read Animal Farm as part of our required curriculum, we could only get our hands on four physical copies of the book in the entire school, and our request to the district weeks before for more copies was never answered.  I often ask, how can a student learn when they don’t even have access to the material that the curriculum requires?

For most of my students, they have no say in where they go to school.  They are just kids, after all.  It is simply determined by where their parents can find work and where they live.  

When faced with such a broken system, it would be easy to come up with excuses.  It would be easy to simply say, “It’s not the kid’s fault, but the parents should have just tried harder and moved somewhere else.”  But I can’t justify abandoning a child just because I can shift the blame.  It would be easy to simply say, “It’s a tough break for that kid, but that’s just how it is.” But I can’t justify letting a child grow up like that in my city just because I can blame fate.  It would be easy to simply say, “These kids prove they don’t want better with the behavior they demonstrate.”  But I can’t give up on a child just because they did what any child would do: they learned from the environment around them.  It would be easy to simply say, “The system here is just too broken, I would be better off in a district where I can do more good.”  But so many of my kids have suffered from enough abandonment in their lives that I can’t bring myself to leave them behind now.    

I wish you could meet my kids.  I wish you could hear each of their stories of how they’ve grown up and their dreams of where they want to be in the future.  While getting to know my kids the way I do may be impossible for you, I hope that you’ll be able to help me here so that I can do more to help them.  None of us alone can fix this problem, but with your help, I pray that we can do what little bit of good we can.   

Thank you, in advance, for all your support!

One Year Update!

One year ago, I asked for help in creating a culinary arts program for my students in a school where resources are always in need and opportunities for vocational growth can be hard to come by. One year ago, people from all across Atlanta and beyond pitched in to make this program come to life.

For all those that have helped, I want to let you know what we accomplished this past year and what we are planning to do this coming year to expand the program.

Over the past year, our Culinary Art Club met every week to learn the skills needed for home and professional cooking. Students practiced knife work, including making fine garnishes. They worked on baking, including making English scones and pizzas from scratch. Students explored French cuisine as they learned how to use an authentic crepe pan and made apple cinnamon crepes. These are only a few of the many dishes they got to experience.

Developing their business skills, students asked to try their hands at an in-school fundraiser for Valentine's Day. From creating the proposal to present to our administrators to outlining their marketing strategies, students got their first taste of the business side of culinary arts. With our administrators' approval, they created flyers and sold "Cookiegrams" and chocolate covered strawberries that were then delivered to students throughout the school on Valentine's Day. The students baked and packaged hundreds of cookies and over a hundred strawberries, all accomplished and delivered on a deadline.

For this coming year, we're hoping to expand our program with new opportunities. One topic that our students brought up time and again was the desire to take field trips, either to see professional cooking in action or to take part in cooking competitions.

Our most exciting opportunity coming up is the chance to refurbish the abandoned greenhouse that we have on our campus. With this, we'll be able to develop a Farm-to-Table program that allows our students the chance to grow their own food for their recipes. If we can raise the necessary funds through donations and grants, we'll even be able to build an aquaponics system that will allow our students and the students in the environmental science classes to study sustainable and responsible urban agriculture!

Of course, we can't manage big goals like this without the support of the community. For those that have given and made our initial program possible this past year, thank you! For those that would like to continue to help, every donation you make is a tremendous gift to our kids. If you have friends or colleagues that you think may be interested in the work we are doing, please pass this along and let them know.

Again, I cannot say it enough, thank you for the support you've offered in making this program possible. These are opportunities that every student should have access to, but until schools and districts are able to supply them on their own, it takes the greater community caring for our kids to make it happen.
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One year ago, I asked for help in creating a culinary arts program for my students in a school where resources are always in need and opportunities for vocational growth can be hard to come by. One year ago, people from all across Atlanta and beyond pitched in to make this program come to life.

For all those that have helped, I want to let you know what we accomplished this past year and what we are planning to do this coming year to expand the program.

Over the past year, our Culinary Art Club met every week to learn the skills needed for home and professional cooking. Students practiced knife work, including making fine garnishes. They worked on baking, including making English scones and pizzas from scratch. Students explored French cuisine as they learned how to use an authentic crepe pan and made apple cinnamon crepes. These are only a few of the many dishes they got to experience.

Developing their business skills, students asked to try their hands at an in-school fundraiser for Valentine's Day. From creating the proposal to present to our administrators to outlining their marketing strategies, students got their first taste of the business side of culinary arts. With our administrators' approval, they created flyers and sold "Cookiegrams" and chocolate covered strawberries that were then delivered to students throughout the school on Valentine's Day. The students baked and packaged hundreds of cookies and over a hundred strawberries, all accomplished and delivered on a deadline.

For this coming year, we're hoping to expand our program with new opportunities. One topic that our students brought up time and again was the desire to take field trips, either to see professional cooking in action or to take part in cooking competitions.

Our most exciting opportunity coming up is the chance to refurbish the abandoned greenhouse that we have on our campus. With this, we'll be able to develop a Farm-to-Table program that allows our students the chance to grow their own food for their recipes. If we can raise the necessary funds through donations and grants, we'll even be able to build an aquaponics system that will allow our students and the students in the environmental science classes to study sustainable and responsible urban agriculture!

Of course, we can't manage big goals like this without the support of the community. For those that have given and made our initial program possible this past year, thank you! For those that would like to continue to help, every donation you make is a tremendous gift to our kids. If you have friends or colleagues that you think may be interested in the work we are doing, please pass this along and let them know.

Again, I cannot say it enough, thank you for the support you've offered in making this program possible. These are opportunities that every student should have access to, but until schools and districts are able to supply them on their own, it takes the greater community caring for our kids to make it happen.
Practicing plating with baked fish
Making apple cinnamon desert crepes
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Another great class with our culinary art students! This week they got to learn how to make chocolate mousse and ganache from scratch. After sharing the work with each student putting in time to whip the cream by hand, they were rewarded with a simple chocolate desert that beat any pudding cup they'd ever had.

And the chocolate wasn't the only sweet surprise they got to enjoy: the chef's uniforms finally arrived and were distributed! With each coat, apron, and hat that was handed out, each student promised to live up to the professional expectations we're requiring for the program.

I can also share some big news with you all, now. Last week we had a reporter from the AJC come see what we're doing and interview our kids. This week they sent out their photographer to grab some shots of the students in the uniforms you all made possible! From what I've been told, keep your eyes out in the AJC on the 8th for the upcoming story.

With each post you share, and now the coverage from the AJC, we're getting the word out about the great need of our students and the ways we're finding to help them. Thank you, again, for making this happen. There's no way this program could happen without the support you've shown!
Looking good and smiles all around for new chef coats and chocolate mousse!
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We've now had two cooking class this week and last, and the kids are having a blast. Last week I taught them to make "real chicken soup." Through that recipe they learned basic sanitation requirements, cutting skills, and budgeting (with a hefty serving of soup for each student at only $0.80 per serving). When I overheard a student tell her friend "I can make this at home!" I knew we were on the right track.

This week we made chicken fried rice, and you wouldn't believe how amazed they were to find such a simple recipe taste so good. Through this recipe they practiced budgeting again (this week broke down to $1.00 per serving), and they learned some impressive science when we cooked the eggs: denatured proteins, polypeptide chains, amino acids, and hydrophobic qualities.

What's on the menu for next week that the kids are all ready raving about? Chocolate mouse and ganache! I'll have a cup or two of jello chocolate pudding on hand for comparison.

Heart felt thanks to everyone that has made and continues to make this program possible. Student got to plate the meals today with the dish sets that have been donated. The large pots we've been able to purchase with your help allowed us to make food to feed the entire group. And the kids are getting introduced to ingredients that many have never heard of. Something so common to us who are at home in a kitchen, like a leek, is brand new to most of my students. I can't wait to introduce them to more exotic foods and really broaden their horizons.

If you have the chance, please keep
sharing the news and spreading the word about what we're doing at our school. It's my hope that eventually we will see vocational programs like this return to all schools and not just select "focus schools." If we're going to take our kids' futures seriously, then we need to make sure that every student has equal access to every opportunity. And while our program is just one small step towards that, you all are making a world of difference for these kids. Thank you!
Cleaning up after an awesome meal!
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Well, my friends, after just the first week of school and posting flyers around the halls, we had over 60 students sign up for the limited 25 slots we have available for the Culinary Arts Club. If ever we needed proof that there is a real desire and NEED for this kind of program in our schools, there you have it.

The selection process to narrow down the group was tough on students and teacher alike, but in the end we have 29 amazing students in the program. (Yes, 29, not 25. It's just way to hard to say no to some of these kids when I realize how much this has the potential to change their lives.)

I wish you could have been there Tuesday after school when we had our first organizational meeting. These kids are beyond excited. And when I told them about the uniforms they would be receiving and the gear that was coming in for them to use because of the support YOU showed...the kids started cheering.

With contuing support, we can keep this program growing. One addition that we can add, with just a little more help to cover cost for ingredients, is an end of semester competition In which we let the kids compete in hosting full meals. We'll split the group up and they will have the chance to serve one week and be served by the other group the week following. In this, we'll be able to teach them dining and serving etique on top of everything else they'll be learning. And for a lot of these kids, it will be the fanciest dining experience they've ever had.

Everyone, I can't thank you enough for what you've done so far. Seriously, these kids are beyond amazed that they are getting real cooking attire. One student even came up the very next day after our organizational meeting to ask if the coats were in! I could not have put this together without your help. Thank you so much! And please keep passing the word along to those who you think would be interested in supporting this kind of program for our kids.
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$4,765 of $5,000 goal

Raised by 56 people in 27 months
Created July 19, 2016
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$100
Anonymous
15 months ago
TM
$100
Tom Minter
15 months ago

Food is certainly something we can all believe in!

MN
$100
Marguerite Nunnally
15 months ago

So proud of you, Kenny! Such a great thing you are doing!

LH
$30
Laurel Hanna
25 months ago

Blessings! Thank you for giving us a chance to support your endeavor.

MS
$50
Mary Sessions
25 months ago
1
1

Proud to know you, Kenny! It's wonderful to see a high school classmate creating good in the world for this group of students.

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