More than a dozen students from several local high schools come to Thomas Edison High School of Technology in northern Virginia once a day to take a class in culinary arts.
"I just like cooking. I like trying new things," said high school senior Matthew Wimmer, who dreams of becoming a chef. "My grandma and my mom they’re both very big in cooking. After my grandma passed away, it sort of inspired me more to become a better cook, a better chef overall."
Student Kiana Wilkerson loves this program, especially its approach of learning by doing.
"When I first came in here, I didn’t really know different cooking methods like sautéing," she said.
Her fellow classmate, Lupita Rivera, who wants to become a pastry chef, savors the chance to work in a large, restaurant-style kitchen.
"No other high schools have this," Rivera said. "They give me hands-on stuff, like you can do everything, you can learn more easily."
Their teacher, Chef Teresa Smith, encourages experimentation.
"We try to do as much as we can from scratch. I also want them to have good basic skills including kitchen math, converting recipes from smaller quantities to larger quantities," she said. "I want them to have a sense of cooking methods. So if you have a piece of meat or a piece of fish, instead of memorizing recipes, what’s the best way to utilize that piece of meat or fish? I want them to have good knife skills. We also stress safety and sanitation."
Restaurant management is just one of 18 specialized programs offered at Thomas Edison High School.
"We have a carpentry class, a masonry class, an electricity class, heating, ventilation and air conditioning class, plumbing," said Karen Wilson, the school's community outreach coordinator. "We have automotive technologies. We have auto body repair. We have our printing and graphics class. We have our interior design class. "
There's also a medical career class which teaches students the skills they'll need to pass the certified nursing assistant exam.
In the construction program, students build a house every year.
And in cosmetology, they learn about hair and skin care.
"It’s a very rigorous program," Wilson said. "The students learn about chemistry, anatomy and physiology. And work with real life clients."
Back in the kitchen, Garrett Paseur and his fellow students have finished their latest assignment.
"Today we prepared five different salads," Paseur said. "I made pasta gazpacho salad which is a pasta salad with gazpacho, which is a cool tomato soup with olive, onions, tomatoes, peppers, salt and pepper, lemon and white wine vinegar."
Before leaving for the day, the students taste and evaluate each other’s recipes.
"You can learn different things about what you should have done differently," Paseur said. "For example, my dish, a lot of other kids were saying that I should add a little more vinegar. So, next time, I’ll know that. So every day is a learning experience in itself."
That’s how students gain real skills that will allow them to move closer to the careers they'll pursue after their high school careers come to an end.