Sunday, May 26, 2024

Serving up education

SHS culinary students learn what it takes to work in school cafeterias

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SPRINGTOWN — Someday, Springtown High School senior Shelby Davis hopes to open her own restaurant and give people a taste of her take on comfort foods, like pasta and “stuff that your mom would cook.”

But for now, she’s serving up nutritious meals to the kids in Springtown Independent School District.

SHS’ culinary arts program welcomed a new initiative this school year — an internship for seniors where they work in the cafeterias at the district’s other campuses. This allows students to practice using kitchen equipment they need to be familiar with for future food service careers in restaurants and in hotels all while being cohesive with their class schedules, SHS culinary arts instructor Elise Jacoby said.

“Additionally, the staff at the Child Nutrition Department offered a unique ability for the students to be able to travel to various campuses and learn different management styles, which I don't feel like they would have necessarily gotten only at working at one location,” Jacoby said, though she is also open to student internship opportunities elsewhere in the community.

When Jacoby spoke with The Tri-County Reporter earlier this year, she said the internship program was going well, and the high school seniors were enjoying learning how to prepare and serve food. Depending on the schedule and the school they’re serving at, they get to be involved in various stages of the process, from serving food to planning for the next day’s meal.

“I feel like (that) is also just a really cool thing for them to see kind of what happens behind the scenes and how they're putting into practice things that they've been learning the three previous years,” Jacoby said. “They're able to put it into practice in an industry-based setting.”

Starting in her freshman year, Davis joined the culinary program at her former school in Keller to sharpen her skills and work toward opening her own restaurant. She has always enjoyed cooking, being able to feed people and seeing their reactions to her dishes.

“I want to be able to work for myself and be able to make the cuisine that I want to make, not what other people are telling me to make,” Davis said about her dream job.

When Davis moved to Springtown, she was fortunate enough to continue learning in SHS’ culinary classes. She appreciates that her food education in Springtown seemed to be more varied and includes learning about the science of nutrition as well.

“That's what I was worried about was Springtown not having practicum because I knew it was a smaller campus, so I didn't know how it was going to work here, but I like the way that they did it,” Davis said. “It's different, but I feel like I'm learning some different stuff.”

For example, Davis said she worked mainly with her high school-aged peers while in Keller, but through the SHS internship, she has been able to learn from people who are older than her.

“I feel like I'm getting more experience from the people that have more experience,” she said.

While the cafeteria internship is new, SHS’ culinary arts program is not. Jacoby said it started in the 2009-10 school year, about 10 years before she joined. Since then, Jacoby said the program has grown “exponentially.” Through these classes, students can earn a food manager certification, which can allow them to get managerial jobs at restaurants, take on more workplace responsibilities and generally gives them an advantage if they go on to attend culinary school.

The internship, and the culinary arts program as a whole, isn’t just for students who want to pursue higher education but also for those who plan to go to work after graduation and follow an apprenticeship route, Jacoby said.

“If they want to leave high school and they want to go directly into a kitchen and work underneath a chef and learn via that route, they have the knowledge of how the equipment works,” she said. “They have the knowledge of the brigade system in a kitchen already set up, and so they kind of go in with a practical knowledge to apply to the fields.”

Another intern, senior Jaycie Yost, is interested in following a career path that doesn’t have much to do with culinary arts — child psychology. Despite this, Yost has found value in the internship because working in the school cafeterias has put her in a position where she can interact with the kids and observe their behavior.

“If I do 100% pursue child psychology, it also gives me a good experience being around the kids because different kids come through my lunch line every day, and some of them tend to be more shy, and a few of these kids I actually know personally,” Yost said. “You can see if a kid is having a bad day just by the way they act.”

In addition to enjoying working with the children, Davis and Yost also described having positive experiences with the child nutrition staff members.

When she was younger, Davis remembers seeing the depiction of the mean cafeteria worker on screen. After working with real lunchroom staffers, she came away with a different perception.

“They're actually very nice people,” Davis said. “They really do care a lot.”

Likewise, Yost said more people should be emphatic to those working in food service.

“I've had my fair share of mean students, and I realized that maybe I shouldn't have been disrespectful that much when I was their age,” Yost said. “They (cafeteria workers) deserve a lot more respect for what they do. People really do underestimate them. There's so much that they do for us that we didn't even know.”

Jacoby called the internship “eye-opening” for students and said they learned to have more appreciation for the lunchroom workers. The culinary arts instructor also felt thankful.

“I really do appreciate the nutritional staff and them working with our kids and helping them in the learning process,” she said. “I think that it was really neat of them to be open to it as well, and everyone seems to be really enjoying it. It's just been a joy to be a part of it and to see the joy that it brings everybody else in the program that's involved in it is really cool.”

SISD Child Nutrition Director Kimberly Nash said she was excited to be a part of this internship and is already looking forward to next year.

“We're here to serve the students, but this is another opportunity for us to be able to help out the students and give them that experience that they need for going into the real world and getting jobs and that sort of thing,” Nash said. “Not only do we get to feed the students, but now we get to help them out in their classwork as well.”

Working in a kitchen isn’t exactly a tranquil experience and can be difficult for people like Yost who deal with anxiety. Fortunately, the internship has allowed her to practice how to manage her emotions in a hectic situation.

“The kids tend to yell a lot, and sometimes it gets a little overwhelming,” Yost said. “But every once in a while, I'll be like, ‘Hey, I just need to take a breath. Can I step back?’ and I'll take a breath, step back in and everything's fine. It's a stress-inducing environment, but sometimes you need to learn to thrive in the most unusual places.”