Excellence in Education: Learning life skills, one meal at a time | SierraSun.com

Excellence in Education: Learning life skills, one meal at a time

A North Tahoe High student gets ready to prepare his zucchini bread assignment.
Courtesy photo |

TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. — If you eat, you should know how to cook. It is that simple philosophy, and a desire to have fun in class, that encourages students at North Tahoe High School to take advantage of the Culinary Arts Program.

This course is offered as a CTE class (career and technical education skills). CTE programs are specifically designed to “prepare youth for a wide range of high-wage, high-skill, high-demand careers and/or further educational opportunities.”

Under the guidance of Laura Hartung-Roberts, a health and human services and family and consumer science major and 14-year teaching veteran, students hone their culinary skills in a professional commercial kitchen on the school’s campus. The spacious and well-equipped kitchen and adjacent classroom were built in 2007 as part of The North Tahoe Middle and High School reconstruction project, which modernized the entire school facility. In the subsequent years, the kitchen classroom has been supplemented via various grants for equipment and special lab foods from the Excellence in Education Foundation.

Hartung-Roberts’ energy, spirit and dedication to her class are evident when you see her interact with the students. “I believe not only that this class is fun but the kids are learning a trade that can be used to acquire a job, or simply an appreciation for an industry that they will patronize throughout their lives. Overall, my desire is that my students walk away from every class with a new or renewed appreciation of food,” she said.

Roughly 80-90 students participate in the program every school year and the course is taught in three levels. Culinary Arts 1 focuses on the basics. Students learn about equipment, food safety and sanitation, measuring, cooking methods and techniques, herbs, spices, stocks, sauces and nutrition. Class 2 follows with menu planning, international foods and baking. Students practice knife skills, menu costing, budgeting and begin baking and working with meat, poultry and seafood as well as salads and garnishing. Class 3 introduces culinary math, business planning and design, menu design and nutrition, workplace skills and management essentials. It also includes two special interest projects generated by the students.

All three levels include a life skills component such as leadership and communication, organization, time management, public speaking, community outreach, resume writing and much more. Hartung-Roberts believes in project-based learning and utilizes the “8 Keys of Excellence” as her preferred method of character education. These principles such as integrity, honesty and kindness, commitment, learning from your mistakes, responsibility, flexibility and balance translate well into the kitchen environment.

Students who have successfully mastered the skills needed to complete classes 1 and 2 are eligible to participate in a job internship program where they work at restaurants within the community. Wolfdale’s, Jake’s on the Lake and The Tahoe House have partnered with the culinary program and annually welcome students, giving them the opportunity to learn how their classes and skills apply in a busy working kitchen.

The Tahoe House has worked with three students and been impressed with the program and the level of skill the students have when they arrive. They believe the internship is a practical way for the kids to gain work experience and help figure out if a culinary career path is something they want to pursue. In addition, Barbara, Caroline and the staff enjoy working with the kids and giving back to the community.

As Hartung-Roberts explains to her students, “You’re here to learn how to cook, nourish your body, and acquire a skill that can provide you a career.” As it turns out, several students from her program have gone on to pursue restaurant careers and some can be found preparing delicious meals at favorite Tahoe eateries.

The Culinary Arts program is proving to be an effective and beneficial class for North Tahoe High School students and is an excellent example that when schools and community businesses partner together positive things can happen.

North Lake Tahoe’s local restaurants have been enormous supporters of programs such as the Culinary Arts classes and give generously every year to support local schools and education. One such community partnership is the Excellence in Education Dining for Schools program that directly benefits students in the school district. Dining for Schools cards are sold for $50 and entitles the bearer to 50 percent off any individual dinner entree at 43 participating restaurants in the Truckee and North Tahoe area.

Proceeds are used by the Excellence in Education Foundation to provide grants, resources and partnerships to benefit students, teachers and the educational community. Dining cards are available at Porters Sports, Save Mart, Safeway locations (Kings Beach and Truckee), Mountain Hardware and online at http://www.ExinEd.org.

Katja Dahl is an Excellence in Education board member.

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