What’s one of the greatest challenges for today’s teachers and students? How to prepare students to thrive in the most competitive global economy the world has ever known, where workers won’t just have multiple jobs over the course of a lifetime – they’ll have multiple careers! And, in our fast-paced, technology-driven marketplace, many of those jobs haven’t even been invented yet!
To learn how one school is meeting this challenge, Thursday morning brought us to Louisville, Kentucky, to visit Jeffersontown High School Magnet Career Academy – the home of the Chargers.
The school serves a diverse student body of 1,400 students, including many from low-income families. Learning is organized around career themes, through four academies. The Design Academy features engineering, Computer-Aided Design and Drafting, and Web design; the Build Academy features robotics and electronics; the Create Academy houses the fine arts; and the Lead Academy offers JROTC and business. All of the academies offer all the coursework needed to prepare students for college and careers, along with specialized technical training and certification and the opportunity to earn college credits along with a high school diploma.
These career academies have strong support from the surrounding cities and from the region’s employers, who see it as key to developing a competitive workforce and filling high-demand jobs. For instance, the Design Academy houses the Ford Partnership for Advanced Studies, based on a model first launched in 1990 by the Ford Motor Company to encourage students to pursue education and build successful careers in business, engineering, and technology. Last year, the Jefferson County Public Schools was named a Ford Next Generation Learning community – on of 18 communities in the U.S. to earn this designation. The goal of the program is to help districts and communities implement plans that improve student performance and readiness for college and careers. Funding from Ford and America’s Promise Alliance will help the district roll out its plan.
Watch Secretary Duncan wrap up day four of the Ready for Success bus tour:
President Obama stopped by Bladensburg High School in Maryland on Monday to announce the winners of the inaugural Youth CareerConnect program. The school, along with two other high schools in Prince George’s County, is being awarded $7 million as part of the program. Overall, 24 Youth CareerConnect awards across the country will provide $107 million to high schools and their partners as they redesign the teaching and learning experience for students to more fully prepare them for a successful future.
The program, administered by the U.S. Department of Labor in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Education, will help prepare 2,500 graduates at Bladensburg and other schools to succeed academically and graduate career-ready in high-demand fields such as information technology and health care.
“I’m announcing a new challenge to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy,” Obama said during his 2013 State of the Union address. “We’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math – the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill jobs right now and in the future.”
The Youth CareerConnect program encourages America’s school districts, institutions of higher education, the workforce investment system, and their partners to scale up evidence-based high school models that will transform the high school experience for America’s youth. Participating schools will strengthen America’s talent pipeline through:
Integrated Academic and Career-Focused Learning
Work-Based Learning and Exposure to the World of Work
Robust Employer Engagement
Individualized Career and Academic Counseling
Integration of Post-secondary Education and Training
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently met with a school community in Massachusetts that shares the same approach as the Youth CareerConnect program. Worchester Technical High School, which earned the U.S. Education Department’s recognition as a Blue Ribbon School in 2013 thanks to students’ high performance, meaningfully engages students in relevant experiences that provide a link to future college and career pathways. The school went from being one of the worst in the district to one of the best in the nation with a 95 percent graduation rate and a 1.3 percent dropout rate.
During his visit, Duncan participated in a town hall discussion on career and technical education with high school teachers, community college officials and business leaders. The school’s strong leadership and willingness to embrace the community left an unforgettable impression on Duncan.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a school that is more open, whether it’s higher ed partnerships, whether it’s business partnerships, whether it’s literally inviting the community into your school every single day … this school is an extraordinary community asset,” he told the audience.
Today’s announcement of the Youth Career Connect program recognizes that many local districts and school leaders, as well as many of their national and local workforce partners, have been working together to provide these workplace relevant opportunities for students for quite some time, and it builds off of the collective experiences of these local partnerships. Ultimately, this program complements additional proposals in the President’s 2015 budget, and supports the President’s broader agenda to strengthen education to more effectively prepare young people for college and careers.
Brenda Dann-Messier is the Assistant Secretary for the Office of Vocational and Adult Education.
“How do we start making high school … more interesting, more exciting, more relevant to young people?”
That’s the idea behind the Youth CareerConnect grant program, which President Obama discussed this morning during his visit to Bladensburg High School in Prince George’s County, Maryland. In his remarks, the President announced that Bladensburg High was part of a three-school team in Prince George’s County that won a $7 million Youth CareerConnect grant.
The grant will give students at Bladensburg High access to individualized college and career counseling, as well as paid work experiences with employer partners such as Lockheed Martin. What’s more, students concentrating in health professions will be able to earn industry-recognized certifications in nursing and pharmacy, and biomedical students will be able to earn college credit from the Rochester Institute of Technology and the University of Maryland Baltimore County.
President Barack Obama meets with students working in a biomedical sciences classroom at Bladensburg High School in Bladensburg, Maryland, April 7, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
All told, the grant will help prepare 2,500 students at Bladensburg High and other Prince George’s County schools to succeed academically and graduate career-ready in the high-demand fields of information technology and health care.
Youth CareerConnect is a national competition, backed by the Departments of Education and Labor, to start redesigning America’s high schools for the 21st century economy. The program is offering $107 million in new grants — ranging from $2.2 million to $7 million — to local partnerships of local education agencies, workforce investment boards, institutions of higher education, and employer partners.
We challenged America’s high schools to … say what can you do to make sure your students learn the skills that businesses are looking for in high-demand fields. And we asked high schools to develop partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on real-life applications for the fields of the future — fields like science and technology and engineering and math.
President Barack Obama shakes hands with the students on stage following remarks and announcing the winners of the Youth CareerConnect Competition, at Bladensburg High School in Bladensburg, Maryland, April 7, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
As President Obama explained, these grants will help ensure that more of America’s youth receive a world-class education, which will prepare them “with the skills they need for college, for a career, and for a lifetime of citizenship.”
“From preschool for every 4-year-old in America, to higher education for everybody who wants to go, every young person deserves a fair shot,” said the President. “And I’m going to keep on doing everything I can to make sure you get that shot and to keep America a place where you can make it if you try.”
Brenda Dann-Messier, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (left), and Secretary Arne Duncan visit with Aviation High School students during a visit to the CTE-focused school in 2013. February is CTE Month.
In his fifth State of the Union address, President Obama called on the nation to make 2014 a year of action. He laid out a clear vision for promoting equality of opportunity and challenged everyone to go all-in on the innovations that will help this country maintain its edge in the global economy. “Here in America,” said the president, “our success should depend not on accident of birth, but the strength of our work ethic and the scope of our dreams. That’s what drew our forebears here. … Opportunity is who we are. And the defining project of our generation is to restore that promise.” The president also put heavy emphasis on career and technical education and training that prepares young people for work. “We’re working to redesign high schools,” he said, “and partner them with colleges and employers that offer the real-world education and hands-on training that can lead directly to a job and career.”
February is Career and Technical Education (CTE) month—a great opportunity to acknowledge the important contribution CTE is making to individual citizens, our economy, and our nation. Every year, during this month, we recognize the efforts and accomplishments of the many students who are pursuing their ambitions through CTE pathways. We also thank all those working tirelessly so that more students can find their life’s passion and reach their full potential. Each day, thousands of teachers, school and district administrators, state education officials, career and technical student organization leaders, business and labor leaders, parents, and others are helping to equip students with the academic knowledge—as well as the technical and employability skills—they need to find productive careers and lead fulfilling lives.
Today’s CTE students and educators face a more difficult challenge than those of earlier generations, when a high school diploma and the skills it represented were enough to secure a place in the middle class. Those low-skilled, well-paid jobs are gone, and they won’t return. By working together, those at the local, state, and national levels are making significant progress in improving the rigor and relevance of CTE programs all across America.
In the 21st century, we need to prepare all students to succeed in a competitive global economy, a knowledge-based society, and a hyper-connected digital world. All students must be lifelong learners, able to re-skill frequently over the course of their careers, in order to meet the changing demands of the workplace and the marketplace. They’ll need the flexibility and ingenuity to thrive in jobs that haven’t even been invented yet! Teaching and learning must change, in part, because the very nature of work has changed. President Obama’s North Star goal in education is for every student to graduate from high school and obtain some form of postsecondary training or degree.
High-quality CTE is absolutely critical to meeting this challenge. Inspiring CTE teachers and effective curricula are essential to ensuring that students can master the new realities and seize the amazing new opportunities that await them.
The president and I believe that high-quality CTE programs are a vital strategy for helping our diverse students complete their secondary and postsecondary studies. In fact, by implementing dual enrollment and early college models, a growing number of CTE pathways are helping students to fast-track their college degrees.
CTE programs provide instruction that is hands-on and engaging, as well as rigorous and relevant. Many of them are helping to connect students with the high-demand science, technology, engineering and math fields – where so many good jobs are waiting.
In visiting CTE programs across the country, I’ve seen many excellent examples of partnerships that are providing great skills and bright futures for students. Our challenge is to replicate these successful programs so they become the norm—especially in communities that serve our most disadvantaged students. This administration’s goal is to prepare students to excel in college, in long-term occupational skills training, in registered apprenticeships, and in employment.
The president’s 2014 budget proposal includes both continuing and new funding to support this agenda. In addition to refunding the Perkins Act at roughly $1 billion, the Department of Labor will complete providing approximately $2 billion in Trade Adjustment Act funds over four years for CTE partnerships led by the nation’s community colleges. And, in November, the president announced a new $100 million initiative between the departments of Labor and Education to fund Youth CareerConnect grants.
Youth CareerConnect will encourage school districts, higher education institutions, the workforce investment system, and other partners to scale up evidence-based models that transform the U.S. high school experience. Best of all, with this grant program, we can plan on making awards early this year.
In celebrating CTE month, we celebrate all the partners—students, parents, business, union and community leaders, educators all through the pipeline, and many more—who are helping to transform CTE and achieve our shared vision of educational excellence and opportunity for all students. At the Department of Education, we’re proud to be your partner.
Together, we can make the year ahead a time of bold, smart, far-reaching action.
Technology is a critical tool for career readiness at the Duke Ellington School for the Arts in Washington, DC.
February is Career and Technical Education (CTE) month, and what could be more fitting than to announce that the name of the Office of Vocational and Adult Education has been changed to the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE). Vocational education was recognized as a national priority with the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917. “Career and Technical Education” has now replaced “vocational education” as a more accurate term to describe what and how students are studying to be career ready.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has said, “The president and I believe that high-quality CTE programs are a vital strategy for helping our diverse students complete their secondary and postsecondary studies.” He acknowledged that those on a CTE track are helping our nation meet our economic and workforce challenges. “In fact, by implementing dual enrollment and early college models, a growing number of CTE pathways are helping students to fast-track their college degrees.”
If you want to engage the high-tech industry to help improve job readiness for the nation’s 36 million low-skilled adults, a good place to start is Silicon Valley.
That is just what the Wadhwani Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education did. In January, Wadhwani staff, led by Chief Executive Officer Ajay Kela, were joined by ED’s Brenda Dann-Messier, assistant secretary for career, technical, and adult education; Johan Uvin, deputy assistant secretary for policy and strategic initiatives; and Cheryl Keenan, director of the Adult Education and Literacy Division, for a listening-and-working session at Cañada College, in Redwood City, Calif.
Assistant Secretary Brenda Dann-Messier (seated, second from left) and Wadhwani Foundation’s Gayatri Agnew (standing, left) are joined by colleagues viewing new learning technology presented by Leslie Redd of LearnBIG (seated, third from left) at the adult reskilling session in Redwood City, Calif. (ED photo credit: Joe Barison)
This engagement event, “Time for the U.S. to Reskill,” brought more than 50 San Francisco Bay Area adult-education stakeholders together, with representation from local workforce, community, and advocacy organizations. The welcome by Wadhwani’s Kela, ED’s Dann-Messier, and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Regional Administrator Robert Garcia described the magnitude of the low-skilled-adults challenge. The speakers emphasized how a worker’s low skill level directly affects life beyond employment, starting with a person’s health.
The format was “to put people in a room who may not typically come into a room together and convene unlikely stakeholders,” said Gayatri Agnew, Wadhwani’s program director for Race to a Job – USA.
The immediate goal, Dann-Messier said, “is a national plan to improve the foundation skills of the 36 million low-skilled adults in this country.” She explained her imperative to travel to California and to be in the room. “I need to hear what the folks are saying regionally, what the challenges are, what the solutions are, and it’s very important for me to hear all of that first-hand, and not have it filtered.”
Agnew moderated a panel comprised of adult-education stakeholders, followed by general discussion. The participants then dispersed to a half-dozen small rooms for a working lunch and creating the start of solutions. Later, during a break, participants talked about their reasons for attending the session and assessed how things were going.
“We’re trying to serve an issue here of equality, access issues, in both the field of Latinos moving up in the corporate world and in social equity,” said Luis Chavez, chairman of the board, Latino Institute on Corporate Inclusion, and a senior director for the Career Ladders Project.
Silicon Valley employers gave their perspectives as well. Kris Stadelman, director of the Nova Workforce Investment Board, said, “In education – I hear this from employers – your product is supposed to be a trained, ready, educated, prepared workforce.” In this light, she said, the day’s program was on the right track. “It was really good to start out with evidence, with the data, to really quantify what it is we’re talking about. I think the questions were all the right ones.”
This engagement session was one of five ED nationwide sessions, with others held in Philadelphia, Chicago, rural Cleveland, Miss., and the greater Boston, Mass. area. While each session is unique, Dann-Messier sees the Silicon Valley session as different from the rest. “If you’ve got 36 million folks – and federally we’re only serving two million – traditional means aren’t going to work,” she said. “We have to really make sure that we utilize technology-enabled solutions.”
Joe Barison is the director of communications and outreach for ED’s San Francisco Regional Office.
Last month, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released the findings of the international Survey of Adult Skills, a product of the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). The results showed that on the three domains (literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in a technology-rich environment), the U.S. average performance is significantly lower than the international average and the U.S. has large percentages of low performers in each domain.
Clearly, we need to be more strategic and systematic and create learning opportunities for all low-skilled adults, beyond the 2 million per year we can reach through the current adult education program. To that end, the Department asked OECD to take a closer look at the backgrounds of the U.S. low-skilled population, identify policy implications, and offer a broad set of recommendations that could provide a framework to help this country build on our strengths and systemically address some of our skill weaknesses.
Today OECD released their report, Time for the U.S. to Reskill? What the Survey of Adult Skills Says. This report is the first report in a decade that quantifies the population of low-skilled adults and takes a closer look at who these low-skilled adults are. The findings are alarming and should concern us all. They shine a spotlight on a part of our population that’s historically been overlooked and underserved—the large number of adults with very low basic skills. OECD identified in this report that there are about 36 million adults ages 16-65 performing below Level 2.
Students at the Biddeford Regional Center of Technology in Biddeford, Maine are excited about learning — and they’re eager to tell you why. They can also show you some pretty impressive proof that they’ve mastered the concepts they’ve studied.
Take, for example, the house they built as the capstone of one project.
A selection of CTE programs offered at Biddeford Regional Center of Technology
“It’s not just about wiring a house, it’s about the theory and science [of] what is actually happening in the wires. In my other classes, you don’t really get hands-on, you just do what’s in the book,” a senior at the Center recently explained to visitors from the U.S. Department of Education.
Part of my role as a Teaching Ambassador Fellow (TAF) is to help teachers and other educators around the country learn about the Department’s efforts to support world-class teaching and learning. But, it’s just as important for us to bring teacher, principal, and student perspectives back to policymakers in Washington. For both those reasons, I traveled to Biddeford.
Right now, there’s an important shift taking place in schools and districts across the United States: a shift away from vocational education, and toward career and technical education, or CTE. The narrow vocational training of our parents’ and grandparents’ day was often separated from the college preparatory curriculum, and geared to the needs of the industrial age. Today’s CTE programs are designed to meet the needs and opportunities of the global economy and the digital age, and prepare students for equal success in college and careers.
When change is this ambitious, it can take a while for old perceptions to catch up to new realities. CTE teachers and students in CTE courses often find themselves having to correct the belief that CTE courses are less rigorous than traditional “college prep” classes. The experiences of the students and teachers at Biddeford certainly debunked this myth.
Biddeford offers professionally certified programs in career fields like legal studies, architecture, early childhood education, and health sciences. The students told us they feel good about learning a combination of academic, technical and employability skills that will equip them for success in college and in the 21st century’s technology-rich, team-based, results-oriented professions.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan delivered this year’s commencement speech at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Md.
Summer is here and as recent grads take time to pause and reflect on their tenure in higher education, many may wonder what they will do with the rest of their lives and how they will use their degrees.
Follow your passion and help others. This was the common theme in Secretary Arne Duncan’s four commencement speeches this spring.
“I did learn two valuable lessons in thinking about the future from my teachers, my family, and my mentors,” Duncan said at Morgan State University.
First, I learned the importance of following your passion — that your ability to adapt and be creative, to skillfully manage the inevitable uncertainty that would come, would, in large measure, determine one’s success in a knowledge-based, global economy…. Second, I learned I should strive to lead a life of consequence — to try to demonstrate my respect and gratitude to all those who had helped me growing up by working to help others.”
The Secretary expressed hope that graduates would run for school board, become teachers or tutor students so that they could positively affect their communities through education, regardless of the career path they take. He told graduates at the College of Menominee Nation that they were “a gift to [their] people,” but that with that gift came responsibilities and obligations to give back to one’s community.
He echoed this same call for action during his speech at Hostos Community College when speaking about the school’s namesake, Eugenio Maria de Hostos.
“For de Hostos, education was not just about getting a degree, it was about what you did with your degree,” said Duncan.
Duncan mentioned in more than one speech how the Obama Administration is committed to preserving investments in federal student aid and will continue to empower students and families through tools such as the College Scorecard and the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet.
Brenda Dann-Messier, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Vocational and Adult Education (left), and Secretary Arne Duncan with Aviation High School students.
As a former middle school math teacher, at the end of every academic year, I worried about what would happen to my students when they entered high school. I often wished they had different options, including more career and technical education (CTE) schools that would prepare them for the demands of a high-tech economy.
Last week, I participated in a roundtable discussion at Aviation High School in Long Island City, N.Y., where Secretary Arne Duncan spoke with students about their experiences. This school is an example of a CTE school I would have loved to see my students attend.
With a strong focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, Aviation High School prepares students for careers in aviation maintenance and the aerospace industry. In addition to traditional classrooms, the school has 17 real aircraft where students practice repairing planes.
Secretary Duncan highlighted this school as a compelling example of what the Obama administration is trying to replicate through the High School Redesign initiative proposal. This new, competitive grant program would encourage school districts to rethink the traditional high school model and focus on providing rigorous real-world experiences to students that will put them on a path for success in both college and careers.
Through grants to local educational agencies in partnership with colleges, universities, and other organizations—such as nonprofits and community-based groups—the High School Redesign initiative will challenge schools to personalize learning. Redesigned high schools will customize content and instructional practices so that students not only master challenging academic concepts and skills, but also pursue their individual interests.
Further, these schools will align teaching and learning so that all students graduate with college-level coursework or college credit and career-related experiences and skills.
Today’s high-tech, knowledge economy requires that our schools connect learning to what students will be required to do in college and careers.
Located close to two New York airports, Aviation High School has strong partnerships with local businesses, such as JetBlue, that provide internships and mentoring for students. As one student said, “What we learn here, we apply it in real world situations.”
During the roundtable discussion with Secretary Duncan, Aviation High School students discussed how hands-on experiences through internships and other job-related experiences help them to perform well in traditional academic subjects like physics and math.
United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew further emphasized this point, “We know students in this program outperform on academics because they are engaged in the learning process.”
Many students talked about the pride and accomplishment they felt as a result of their work at the school. One said, “When you actually work on a plane and watch it take off, that’s a good feeling.”
Students also emphasized how teachers and mentors challenged them and prepared them with skills they planned to use after graduation as they pursue college or aviation careers.
When asked how high schools in the nation could provide similar experiences for other students, one student replied, “You have to start that fire. Get that spark. Make them determined to be successful.” Aviation High School is a powerful model that is clearly sparking so many of its students to succeed.
For more information about the High School Redesign initiative, please see here.
Nicora Placa is a full-time Ph.D student at NYU researching teaching and learning mathematics, and a 2008 Teaching Ambassador Fellow.
“Tonight, I’m announcing a new challenge: to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy.”
– President Barack Obama, February 12. 2013
State Superintendent for Washington, Randy Dorn speaks with teachers and staff members from the Department of Education
When President Obama spoke those words in this year’s State of the Union address, I felt like cheering. As a science teacher, it’s my job to help students fall in love with learning and explore important questions about how the world works. I also know the principles and problem-solving skills they’re mastering will help them succeed in today’s competitive global economy, where science, technology, engineering and math (or “STEM”) careers are on the rise. And, through fellowships with the U.S. Department of Education, I’ve been paying even closer attention to how the Obama Administration’s proposals affect my work.
The President’s High School Redesign plan would invest in programs that re-invigorate the American high school experience for the 21st century. Strengthening Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs and collaborating more closely with postsecondary, business and community partners are two ways that high schools can re-think their current model. I recently had an opportunity to visit a school that’s using both of these strategies when I accompanied Dr. Brenda Dann-Messier, U.S. Assistant Secretary for Vocational and Adult Education, on a trip to Cleveland High School in Seattle, Wash.
As teachers and school leaders across the country think about implementing the President’s plan, there’s a lot we can learn from schools that have already started down this path. Cleveland High School was restructured as a STEM-themed school four years ago, and according to the principal, Princess Shareef, “There was no template set for us.” Instead, school leaders and staff had the freedom to innovate, meeting every week and including parents, employers and other partners in designing a new approach. The result? A high school in South Seattle that provides a college-and-career-ready curriculum through project-based learning, and connects students with mentors from the surrounding community.
Dr. Brenda Dann-Messier, Assistant Secretary for Vocational and Adult Education speaks with State Superintendent of Washington, Randy Dorn
During classroom walk-throughs, we spent time in a computer engineering class and talked with students engaged in a reverse-engineering assignment. In this hands-on design project, students choose an everyday object like a toy car or a mechanical pencil, measure the object using calibration tools, design and draw blueprints, transform the blueprints into multi-view drawings, and create a mock assembly. The students we met clearly understand and excel in their subject. They’re also confident that what they’re learning will empower them in the future.
One student said, “It’s really nice to have experience with the computer-aided design, and this will help with job preparedness. Most [engineering] jobs are looking for experience in graphic design.” Another added, “I’m learning how to solve problems and to communicate with my team every day. This is important for my career in the future.”
These students realize that, in today’s marketplace, they need even more technical skills and experience. The days of working in isolation are over: problem-solving and teamwork skills are essential for success in the 21st century. At Cleveland High School, students learn to be effective collaborators through project-based learning.
As one student explained, “We get graded on work as a team. Communication is important and there are instances when the group doesn’t function and so you have to learn how to communicate in a better way. You also learn how to speak for yourself and develop a voice.” A business leader at the table drew an appreciative laugh from the group by noting, “Yes, just like in the real world.”
Equipped with a full range of academic, technical and employability skills, students at Cleveland High School will be ready for the demands of the world that awaits them after graduation. That’s good news for them and for the employers in their region. It’s also great news for the country.
As Dean of Students Catherine Brown told the assembled students, employers and civic leaders that, by coming together to re-engineer Cleveland High School, “You’re not just thinking of your industry—you’re thinking about the common good of society.” By focusing on relevant, real-world skills; by making STEM-themed learning, wrap-around services and broad-based partnerships a vital part of each school day; and by graduating college-and-career-ready students, this re-engineered high school is preparing the next generation of U.S. leaders in some of tomorrow’s most exciting professions.
Dr. Kareen Borders is a Regional Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education
Today’s Lunch Menu: Tenacious Turkey Chili with a side of Sunshine Fries and a helping of Jalapeno- Infused Peach Crumble for dessert. Sounds delicious, right? Well believe it or not, this mouth-watering meal is not only tasty, affordable, and healthy- but was made entirely by high school students.
On Monday, June 10th, the U.S. Department of Education hosted student chefs from high school culinary programs as part of Cooking up Change, presented by the Healthy Schools Campaign. This healthy cooking contest puts student front and center by challenging them to create a great-tasting lunch that meets nutrition standards on a tight budget. After winning first place in their local Cooking up Change competition, eight teams of student chefs traveled to Washington to lend their voices, and their culinary creativity, to the national conversation about the future of food in our schools.
Picking the winner went beyond the taste buds. Each team was asked to discuss the inspiration for their meal and the various challenges they faced throughout the process. Many cited their culture as the basis for their dish. Team Memphis gave a shout out to famous Southern BBQ with their BBQ Chicken Tacos while Team Los Angeles stayed true to their roots with their Tex-Mex Cornbread and Black Bean Mountain dish- both equally delicious! The challenges were a common theme throughout the teams. Each team was given strict guidelines of 10 ingredients with a budget that mirrors the constraints that schools face across the country. These student-designed meals have been seen on school lunch menus across the country, including their very own cafeterias, proving that cafeteria food can truly be both balanced and delicious!
With full stomachs and smiles all around, the winning team was chosen. Team Orange County, Cesar Amezcua, Cecilia Magana and Carlos Ortiz, culinary students from Valley High School took home the top prize for their dish “Pita Packs a Punch,” with Hot and Sweet Slaw and Delicious Apple Crepes. Not only was their dish healthy and packed with flavor, but their stories were inspirational. The students spoke of their plans to attend vocational colleges to achieve their dream of becoming executive chefs, each will be the first in his or her family to attend college.
“This was so important to us because we want to make a difference in our school”, said Amezcua, and he was able to achieve just that.
Congrats Team Orange County and to all the student chefs! And of course, many thanks to those who help our students learn the importance of healthy lifestyles.