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Keeping Oakland Unified Culinary Students Linked During Distance Learning

September 30, 2020 | Linked Learning Alliance

“You’re all set to make pasta sauce!” Chef David Isenberg called to his student as they skipped away from campus Monday morning. Students in Ralph J. Bunche Academy’s Culinary Linked Learning Pathway don’t miss a beat - they pick up a box of ingredients each week and Zoom in to class from home.

From the teaching kitchen in Oakland Unified School District’s new Central Kitchen, Chef Isenberg demonstrates for his students using three cameras - one on him; one on a cooking source; one on a cutting board. He demos for his students; they watch the videos and learn about the art and science of cooking. Next class, students turn their phone or digital device to so Chef Isenberg can watch them cut and cook. He advises them each step of the way.

“How do you like it? How does it taste? Does it need salt?” These are questions Chef asks his students as they prepare food at home. He misses being able to taste the food and provide in-person feedback but is learning to prepare his students to evaluate and improve their own cooking. Students are learning to chop, slice and dice professionally and effectively even as students are at a distance from educators, like Chef Isenberg. He has shown students how to focus the camera of their device so that he can supervise and instruct students in their cutting. By the end of the course, students will have learned to make a variety of foods, along with the science and math behind their culinary masterpieces.

Just as he does every year, Chef Isenberg started off by supporting his students to obtain Food Handler certificates. They join the National Restaurant Association’s ServSafe Food Handler’s course, an online, three-hour interactive session. Students take a 45-question test at the end and earn a Food Handler’s certificate valid for three years with a passing score of 75% or above. This certificate not only ensures students understand basic food handling during their coursework, but can also carry over after high school into the workforce.

But education and skills development do not end with earning a Food Handler certificate. Every Linked Learning student engages in high-quality education that features college-preparation coursework and real-world work experiences such as internships, apprenticeships, special projects, and simulations supervised by area businesses.

Through these experiences, students are introduced to both college and career possibilities they could not imagine on their own. They engage with professionals in their field of study and begin building a network of people who can support their future postsecondary aspirations. “Chef Isenberg understands the power of engaging the youth in curriculum that amalgamates math, science, organization, and critical thinking. Culinary students know that they are learning a life skill that can improve the quality of their relationships at school and at home. We are lucky to have Chef and feel empowered by the outcomes achieved by our students,” reflected Dwayne Bartholomew, the principal of Ralph J. Bunche Academy’s Culinary Linked Learning Pathway.

Students are sharing what they learn and prepare with their families and feel proud. While doing demos, a few family members have engaged and told Chef they are interested in taking his course, too. Families love seeing their students engaged in hands-on learning, even from home and want to know when their kids can take over the cooking in the home.

The pandemic has changed how Chef Isenberg and his students work together but it has not changed the quality of connection or excitement students have to be gaining new knowledge, as well as practical and employable skills.