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In Morse’s culinary-arts program, the class is the internship.

“This is where they get their internship,” Smith-Piatt says, “because it’s not that easy for the students to get anywhere else. At San Diego High and Garfield [two other schools with culinary programs], you can walk across the street to get an internship. But there are no businesses around here.”

Not only do Smith-Piatt’s students run the Hungry Tiger Cafe and provide food to the school’s staff, but they also cater district events and sports banquets and provide cooking demonstrations around the community. Smith-Piatt estimates the range time spent on an internship at somewhere between 15–50 hours per month (times eight months) per student.

At Mira Mesa High School, on the other hand, instructor Eric Fischer says internships aren’t available for the students in his engineering program; local companies save these opportunities for college students.

“Unfortunately, it’s not the perfect little cookie-cutter,” McDonnell says.

If I had to go back to the old way, I wouldn’t

Even with inconsistencies between programs, most have their perks — not only for students but for teachers, as well.

“The days of standing in front of a class to teach are over,” Vandiver says. “If I had to go back to teaching [the old way], I wouldn’t do it. I’d go back to nursing. That’s how much I love it. ”

Zarate agrees. While the hands-on work he now oversees requires more responsibility than the sit-and-learn system he gave up when his auto facility opened, it is, he says, “much more exciting.”

For Smith-Piatt, “The most important part to me is the real-world application. Instead of ‘Why are we doing fractions?,’ it’s, well, you can’t do a recipe without fractions.”

There’s also her $36,000 computerized combination steam/convection oven. “This is my baby,” she says. “There’s even a button for Peking duck. And at the end of the day, it cleans itself.”

For more on this article, read author Elizabeth Salaam's Backstory

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monaghan March 12, 2013 @ 1:21 p.m.

This program livens up the high school curriculum for large numbers of San Diego kids who may not be college-bound -- a legitimate condition that was entirely ignored by the "high expectations" crowd for at least the last decade. Obviously, the workings are imperfect, as described here, but over time it can be improved and will benefit both students and local business and labor groups. It's the return of an old good idea after a long dry spell and the District needs to eliminate its present shortcomings and make it a showpiece.

Turning technical/vocational courses into graduation requirements for everyone is NOT a good idea, however, as those smart La Jollans and Scripps Ranchers realized last year. It's a mystery why the School District could not have figured that out on its own without sparking a middle class uprising and online petition to sink it.

Taking such an extreme step would have jeopardized the competitive admissions standing of college-bound San Diego public school students among their peers nationwide and ultimately it could have driven a lot of local families out of the public schools. It's possible the graduation requirement issue may return in future, as this may be yet another education "reform" fad similar to its "high expectations" predecessor -- ideas pushed in Sacramento and funded with private foundation and federal dollars in isolation from practical reality.


bvagency March 12, 2013 @ 2:37 p.m.

This is an excellent program for the large percentage of kids that wont go on to college. It provides training to ready these kids for a specific career. Unfortunately, not all school districts value this program. Sweetwater Union High District Trustees voted to issue pink slips to teachers in this program, thereby relegating it to possible elimination. This after the Districts Bond Program (prop o) spent tens of millions of dollars building classes specific to this education at numerous high schools.

Lack of vision, mis spending and ultimately lack of leadership will drastically impact kids in this program. Thank goodness the San Diego Unified district still sees value in it.


bbq March 13, 2013 @ 6:11 a.m.

As I am not sure I want to get into another running dialog on where we are screwing up in our educational system. As a Mechanical Engineer, I see a lot of Mechanically Illiterate People in our growing electronic world. I include my own three boys to a certain extent, which I take on myself, but like school and universities, have said for eons about General education we need well rounded individuals.
Well we have gone to the extreme where our students never get to understand the feeling of having a tool in their hands, weather its a wrench or a spatchula (sp), needle and thread, a musical instrument or how knowlege and training in useful skills.
The connection of hand to mind is a powerful teaching tool not only to learn a career but to foster a bond or desire to delve deeper into a subject or idea, really to create. Tools develop the ability to problem solve through logical progression, weather its bolt-washer- nut or flour-egg-water.
We do ourselves and our students, a disservice by not providing, supporting and in some cases requiring basic classes in these skills in our Middle and High Schools.


monaghan March 13, 2013 @ 3:54 p.m.

"The connection of hand to mind" IS powerful and important and should be part of children's lives. But the instruction needs to be excellent and the materials and tools should be first-rate. A retired physician friend makes wooden boats and travels once a month from his home in Massachusetts to practice wood-working with a Vermont craftsman. The work is more deeply satisfying to him than anything from his previous professional life. That's the kind of experience our students deserve.


bbq March 13, 2013 @ 10:36 p.m.

While I agree with your ideal, I will tell you two of the classes that affected my future the most were 6th Grade, combination of Home Econ/cooking, Wood Shop, Home Econ/sewing, Metal Shop and 9th Grade Industrial adventure, Metal, Wood shops, Automotives (rebuilt lawn mower engines) and Machine Drawing. These skills have never steered me wrong, I am an Engineer by trade but the basic skills and concepts are fundimental and transfer to life skills. Again well rounded individuals.


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