Students learn competition-level skills in San Juan’s culinary arts pathway

Pathway student preparing food High schools throughout San Juan Unified offer Career Technical Education (CTE) programs to students. These courses provide hands-on, unpaid training that is designed to prepare them for life after graduation with entry-level, marketable skills.

Students enrolled in San Juan High School’s culinary arts pathway are exposed to a variety of experiences, from learning how to hold a knife to participating in statewide competitions. Focused on exposing students to different opportunities, freshmen in the program are put on a rotating schedule and spend a portion of the year in each of the five pathways found at San Juan.

During sophomore year, students enrolled in the pathway take a test to acquire their Food Handlers Card, which allows them the chance to practice their skills in class and professionally in the industry. Along with the test, students take classes in nutrition and international cuisine to learn the basic components of food and different flavors found throughout the world.

“This program is really going to help with organization, leadership, teamwork and social skills,” said Jessica Swetof, a 12th grader at San Juan. “This program is more than just cooking; it's an amazing opportunity.”

An important part of students’ growth is the opportunity to gather professional experience through the ProStart competition and the pathway’s catering business. Having catered for organizations such as the district and KVIE, students are taken out of the classroom and put into a professional setting to deal with customers’ expectations and needs.

On top of this, a select number of students are entered into the statewide ProStart competition where they compete with other schools in hopes of winning scholarships, prizes and the chance to compete at the national competition.

“My favorite thing is having a team and having a really good time doing it [cooking],” said Kimberly Zucker, a 12th grader from Del Campo High School.

Like other CTE pathways, the goal of the program is to get students ready to take on jobs right out high school. Students receive basic training such knife skills, earn their Food Handlers Card and become familiar with being inside a commercial kitchen.

“When a kid leaves my program they should be able to walk into a restaurant and start working as a prep cook,” said Brent Boultinghouse, culinary arts instructor.

To learn more about the culinary arts pathway, visit