For some, the school year winds down as teachers and students get ready for summer break. That has never been a scenario I can relate to. For the past 11 years the end of the school year means getting ready to cater Senior Boards. Senior Boards are two days at the end of the school year where students give their Senior project speeches in front of a judging panel made up of staff members and community judges. It's a day they have been anticipating after months of hard work. It's a really big deal.
Our culinary department has always had the honor of catering this event by serving savory and sweet delicacies all lovingly prepared by all levels of our culinary students. It's a huge undertaking to say the least. We spend 2 weeks planning and preparing food for this event to make sure it is a special and delicious spread for our Seniors. After 11 years of catering this event I had it pretty much dialed in. I had detailed ingredient lists and plans of how to organize the preparation and storage. It was a well-oiled machine and I was in control. I knew what students would make, exact quantities for each item, and who would make them. Students have always followed through with the plan and impress and amaze me with the quality food they produce. However, this year I realized something. Being in control was preventing my students from "owning" this experience. Sure, they were making amazing food, but they were my ideas, my plan. and students were just going through the motions. A well-oiled machine is great, but if the students aren't operating the machine there is a problem. Were they learning, yes. Were they empowered, no.
So what did I do? I decided to lose control and change it all. I changed the venue, the layout, and threw out some of the recipes we've always done to give my students agency over the planning. Culinary 1 and 2 made some of our tried and true recipes that staff and community members always look forward to, but I gave my Culinary 3 and 4 students complete control over what was made. In culinary 3, I had each food truck team plan a table with food showcasing their final destination in their journey across the United States; the Pacific Northwest. Teams planned dishes and calculated quantities needed to serve over 700 people as well as designed their table presentation. Culinary 4 students, came up with their own menu to serve that would showcase their skills.
In addition to giving students more agency over the preparation and planning, we changed the venue and layout of how food was served to allow for students to be at each of the stations and communicate with the guests. There was also a station set up for guests to vote on their favorite food truck so I could determine the final winners of our Amazing Food Truck Race.
Let me tell you, this was super scary! This was more than taking a risk that would only affect the students in my classroom. This risk could shake up a long standing tradition at South Medford High school. Community judges and staff members look forward to the refreshments every year and it is a way for us to celebrate the amazing accomplishments of our Seniors. I really didn't want this idea to fail.
After I set this new idea in motion. there were moments where I second guessed my sanity and decision to make such a bold move. Losing control is hard. It's uncertain. It's risky. It's just plain scary. However, as I was walking around my class on a day when I was especially feeling out of control.... I realized something. My kids were the ones in control. They all knew what they needed to do and they were getting it done. Do you know what was even better? They were excited! They had owned this experience and were empowered to make it the best they possibly could. They knew they were going to be serving their dishes to their peers, teachers, staff, community members and they wanted to impress!
At the event, students completely shined! They set up beautiful displays, were professional, and served amazing food! I received numerous comments from guests on how impressed they were with the quality of their food and their professionalism. I even heard feedback that they could tell my students were empowered.
Taking this huge risk reminded me that it is okay to be scared sometimes and jump out there on big things as well as small things. Traditions are great, but sometimes they need a little shaking up. Losing control can be a good thing....especially when it empowers our students!
Culinary teacher & Discovery School Lead in Southern Oregon, passionate about finding innovative ways to make learning magical for students. Love to gamify!