By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
The school: BEST High School, a small school on the campus of the former McClymonds High School in Oakland, has a culinary arts program taught by a teacher who is a professional chef. After four years, the program still lacks a kitchen due to insufficient funding. (During the first two years, there was no running water in the classroom.) Students cook on a portable gas range or use a tiny area of the cafeteria when it is free. The program was supposed to become affiliated with the American Culinary Federation and become certificated. But without a kitchen, it doesn't qualify. Students cater events to buy supplies for the program. The district announced that BEST High School will be closed next year due to budget cuts, but administrators hope the culinary program can survive elsewhere.
Student Sareesha Sims, 17
I don't know if I would have come to school on a regular basis without my cooking class or my teacher, Mr. Le Blanc. It was the best thing about 11th grade last year. I woke up every morning and said, "I get to go to cooking class." And I went to school — even if I didn't want to. I now enjoy school. But it used to be a drag.
Lots of the students that I went to middle school with joined gangs. But I am not in a gang because I have better things to do. I just ignore them. I have school.
I have a GPA of 3.71. I want to go to college — a big school. I have applied to San Francisco State, Fresno State and East Bay State University. I pray I will get into any one of them. It doesn't matter which one. I may study child development, or I may study nursing. I'm just a regular person who wants the best out of life.
My cooking class helped me do well in my other classes. In biology class I was able to do the measurement conversions because I learned how to do it in cooking. I was able to do all the experiments. Cooking helped me in math, too. I guess that I like to learn things hands on.
Now they may get rid of the program, and I feel that it's not right. You have a program that motivates kids who have problems with attendance, and they should be putting more money into it — not less. They should be doing whatever it takes to motivate kids to come to school.
Honestly, this school doesn't have what it should have in many ways. In cooking class we share the cafeteria in this itty-bitty space. Our school doesn't have enough electives or enough teachers. We only have two honors classes. Our math books are torn. They say they can't afford new ones.
I don't understand how this program can stay open if they shut down our school. Where will the students go who are already here?
I don't understand why they put more money into jails than schools. They should put more money into schools, period. If children don't learn, they will end up in jail. But if students are learning and having fun at the same time, they probably won't.
People want a difference in the world. We have to push to make a difference or nothing will ever change.
Teacher Harold Le Blanc, Oakland Education Association
My goal has been to get students prepared for college and the food industry. My class offers transferable skills and prepares them for entry-level positions. This program develops career-minded students and gets them excited about school. We cover reading comprehension, science, nutrition and sanitation. But there is no budget for us to buy food. We have to earn the money. I start off every year investing out of pocket. We have no kitchen. They've made promises, but there has been no funding for us. These kids are mostly low-income kids. They work so hard in my class, but due to lack of funding, they don't get the real deal. And they don't know any different. It's sad.