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At This Free Arlington Culinary Arts Program, Teens Learn Their Way Around a Pro Kitchen

Attendance has tripled in recent months at this Arlington culinary arts school.EXPAND
Attendance has tripled in recent months at this Arlington culinary arts school.
courtesy Dan Dipert Career and Technical Center

It’s only been open a year, but the number of culinary arts students at Dan Dipert Career and Technical Center in Arlington has tripled.

The program kicked off with 61 students, says Culinary Arts teacher Alyce Monroe, but that number has swelled to 151 for next school year, plus the 25 or so advanced students or those enrolled in practicum.

“Culinary arts is fun,” she says. “You know, they get to eat.”

Cameron Boone, who plans to take an advanced course next semester, says the program has helped him get better at doing what he enjoys.

“I like to bake, like, sweets and stuff,” the 17-year-old says, explaining how his mother likes baking muffins, and he likes eating them.

After taking a prerequisite on their home campuses, students are bused from six Arlington high schools to the free program, Monroe says. They can enroll in culinary arts and obtain a food handlers license rather quickly or take an advanced course. The classes are double-blocked and last three hours, Monroe says. Plus there’s practicum, which is like an internship that requires an application.

No bells are heard at the school, which operates on an honor system, Monroe says, noting that some of the students admit cooking involves more work than they expected. This year, students cooked and served between 30 and 50 lunches, depending on the day, to community members, school administrators and retired teachers who wanted to show their support.

“We put a little reserved sign on their table to make them feel special,” she says.

Although students cooked the food served at the bistro, Monroe says because the school already had a food service, they were not able to serve student lunches there. To remedy the snag, career cash was offered through a positive behavior intervention and supports system that let students earn the $1,000 in career dollars they redeemed through the bistro.

Through cooking, Monroe says, the students are learning soft skills like teamwork, integrity and meeting deadlines, which can transfer to any industry.

“Are we working on their culinary skills? Of course,” she says. “But our main mission for this school, our vision, is to make sure they’re college and career ready. Employers need someone who can stay off their phone, shows up on time and in uniform, and can communicate with customers and vendors.”

Monroe is one of three teachers who meet each week to form a culinary game plan. She’s a career teacher who says being paired with an industry chef has been a plus for the students. Along with career training, Monroe says she also offers mom tips because “sometimes, you just need to get dinner on the table.”

The students also provide coffee and tea service for faculty.

“We come in an hour before school starts to get that done,” Monroe says.

The culinary program also offers catering with customizable party platters, she says. However, there is no online ordering system, so people have to call, and the food has to be picked up or served on campus.

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“Our signature bar was tacos,” Monroe says. “Our signature cookie is the snickerdoodle. We do a chocolate sheet cake, [and] our Cobb salad is pretty good."

“We have completed more caterings than I’d like to,” she continued. “We’re not really built to be a caterer, but we’ve kind of turned into one.”

Monroe said she hopes to eventually publish a cookbook of student recipes.

“It’s fun,” 17-year-old Catherine Taylor said of the cooking classes. “And I didn’t burn anything down."

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