On a recent Tuesday morning culinary students at the Martha’s Vineyard High School were preparing lunch for some of the teachers. They baked foccacia bread and made sandwiches with vegetables, whipped ricotta cheese and roast chicken, and Italian sausage and mozzarella cheese.
“The food is extraordinary,” said Cindy West, a Spanish teacher who attended the lunch. But cooking wasn’t the only item on the educational menu that day. The students were also learning about molecular gastronomy and, recently, in collaboration with the alternative education program, they baked bread for a science unit on yeast.
“We were able to take the science part of it and turn it into culinary,” said Jack O’Malley, the culinary arts instructor at the high school. The culinary program also works with the Island Grown Initiative, a group dedicated to fostering relationships between local farms and restaurants.
The culinary program is just one of many vocational programs the school offers to provide students with opportunities to learn useful trades.
“All these programs are geared toward a job on the Island,” Mr. O’Malley said.
At the start of freshman year, vocational students go through a rotation called “exploratory.” In a given year, there are 90 to 100 students who enroll. Sophomore year, if they decide to stick with it, the school asks more of them. The basic idea is that a graduate of, say, horticulture, can buy a lawnmower, work a couple years, save up, buy a dump truck and make a living on the Vineyard. This year childcare is being phased out for a medical services program.
Ken Ward is in his first-year as full-time automotive director at the high school. Mr. Ward got his start working at McIntosh Motors while he was a sophomore in the program. After attending a technical school in Connecticut, he consulted as part of the advisory board that works with each of the vocational departments. Antonio Saccoccia, owner of the Grill on Main in Edgartown, served on the advisory board for the culinary program and has employed culinary graduates.
“We always look at the industry trends,” Mr. Saccoccia said. “That’s what we need to teach around.”
At the moment there is a big push from the federal government to train kids for jobs involving science, technology, engineering and math. Even working with cars is all about computers now. If a new car needs fixing, chances are the mechanic will be using diagnostic tools to take readings from the computer systems in the car.
“Cars are a much better product now,” said Jeff Rothwell, who manages the vocational programs at the high school. “The skills that the kids need to fix them are much more complex.”
Students these days, Mr. Rothwell added, are tech-savvy but less skilled with using tools and planning things out.
Last Thursday morning six students, sophomores to seniors, were working on the roof of the pavilion project behind the YMCA. The building trades curriculum usually has students build sheds so they get a sense of what it is like to build a house. This year with the pavilion, the students are learning to put together a structure with a timber frame, which is done by erecting a frame and attaching walls to the sides.
“We try to get them a lot of exposure,” said Bill Seabourne, the building trades teacher at the high school. “They get to do a lot of stuff you do on a normal job.” The school bought a beam saw for the project and some scaffolding. Students this year are getting used to working at different heights.
The school garden at the center of the school shows the vocational programs working together. Building trades built some cold frame boxes and then the horticulture department took it from there, planting fruit trees, parsley, thyme and strawberries. The students are also learning to grow microgreens on burlap sheets, and lettuce and basil with water from a koi fish tank. These students have done a lot of work around the school and parks on the Vineyard, including laying down bricks in gardens around the school. There are three greenhouses at the high school, including one donated by the Kohlberg family and the Martha’s Vineyard Garden Association. On May 15 the horticulture department is having a plant sale starting at 8 a.m.
“There really should be more kids involved in these programs,” Mr. Rothwell said. “It’s all useful stuff.”