It was a big evening Thursday for Durango High School culinary arts students: They were handed some real responsibility – cooking and serving a dinner for business leaders in town.
Not just any dinner, but a real business event in which Durango School District 9-R officials wanted to convey their long-term plans for district facilities, to present ideas for growing the career and technical education curriculum and to tour the facilities for teaching the trades.
District officials also wanted to make their pitch to an important constituency for extending bonds, originally approved by voters in 2004, to help pay for a backlog of maintenance needs and to bolster budgets for annual maintenance and safety upgrades at schools.
“The main goal was nailing those tenderloins. That was the big thing,” said Quin Crist, 18, a senior. “A couple of the smaller tenderloins might have come out a little overcooked.”
Crist, a member of the ProStart advanced culinary arts class that counts as a college credit, said during the school day students handled prep work – preparing a cayenne-garlic wet rub for the herb-glazed tenderloin; cutting squash, zucchini, onions and tomatoes for the grilled vegetable dish; and organizing ingredients to bake dozens of berry-topped cheesecakes for dessert.
Madalen Meier, another ProStart student who has signed a letter of intent to join the golf team at Fort Lewis College, said the biggest challenge was to ensure the food was consistently top quality for all 72 guests the district expected.
“A lot of it was nerve-wracking, making sure the food was all cooked properly, making sure the serving goes off without a hitch,” she said.
Jessica Bright, a Family Career and Community Leaders of America teacher at the school, said culinary arts students had prepared food for banquet fundraisers before, but this was their first true, plated dinner.
Pork was chosen as the main course because it is a meat that’s easier to control when cooked in bulk, but the students didn’t play it safe either.
Assistant Principle Brandon Thurston said, “We kind of talked about doing something more simple, but they (the kids) said, ‘No, let’s do this. It’s kind of a test.’”
Al Harper, owner of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, said he came to learn more about the career and technical education curriculum at DHS, especially welding, pipe fitting and other industrial arts classes.
“We always have openings, and we’re interested in offering internships where students can come not just for a few hours a day, but for a whole day in which we can work with them and teach them some things,” he said. “We’re happy to see 9-R is increasing its focus on career education.”
Nancy Stubbs, president of the 9-R school board, said she and several other district officials recently toured the St. Vrain Valley School District’s Innovation Center.
“It’s a $20 million building, but it all started from a single classroom, and we’d like to look at how maybe we can do that,” she said.