COVID-19 can’t stop Fort Erie high school students from discovering the joy of cooking
Hospitality program carries on — with some changes — amid pandemic
Normally, students in the hospitality and tourism high skill major program at Greater Fort Erie Secondary School would be spending the morning preparing food to be served up to fellow students in the school’s cafeteria.
But, thanks to the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, these are not normal times. The students, however, are taking things in stride and are adjusting to protocols put in place to keep students safe while they learn. That has meant attending school as a part of two separate cohorts, practising physical distancing, wearing face masks and more.
“It’s fine, I really don’t mind,” said Grade 11 student Reuben Perreault. “I like that the class size is smaller.”
Perreault had first taken part in the program, which focuses on teaching the ins and outs of the culinary industry from the kitchen to the dining room, last year and — COVID or no COVID — is back for a second go-around.
“I had a lot of fun,” she said.
One of the big changes for students in the program is that this year, there is no opportunity to share their work with the public. In addition to preparing food for the GFESS cafeteria, students have also been able to get some valuable hands-on experience by operating the school’s Pomegranate Restaurant, which served up meals to the public on a weekly basis. Thanks to the pandemic, that too, has been taken off the menu for students, so to speak.
“We are not able to serve food to the public,” chef teacher Afshin Keyvani said.
Working the restaurant is something Perreault said she’d miss.
“I had a lot of fun making everything,” she said.
While the Pomegranate won’t be in operation, Keyvani thinks the effect it will have on the students will be minimal.
“It really is an extracurricular for the students,” Keyvani said, adding that not having the restaurant is just one more adjustment that has had to be made in order to help the students learn as much as possible.
With that, Keyvani is drawing a lot of positives in the situation. Smaller — and longer — classes, for example, have allowed more time to work with students individually.
“In four hours, there are so many elements in the teaching,” he said. “It really reminds me of when I was in college at Niagara College. We’re doing things more thoroughly, there’s a lot more hands-on work. It is, in one sense, really good that they’ve been able to get the attention.”
And so far, it appears the extra attention students have been getting is paying off.
“We’re at the end of September and they really have begun to get into it,” he said. “They’re working really hard in the kitchen.”
Work for the students continues online when their particular cohort is not physically at school, he added.
All of the new protocols in place have meant a balancing act for the school, measuring the safety of students with their ability to learn.
According to the school’s guide, students need to do many things before coming through the doors for the school day, including completing a COVID assessment form, wearing a face mask and entering through pre-designated doors. Once inside, students are required to maintain physical distance, avoid congregation and head straight to class. Parents are asked to drop off students at the main entrance to the school.
As for the culinary class. Safety protocols mean curbing the amount of food handling students do.
“Me and my assistants bring ingredients to the students,” Keyani said.
Chloe Spada, another Grade 11 student, said despite the protocols and changes to the high-skill program, she is simply glad to be back in school.
“There’s definitely a difference,” she said. “But I like it.”
But if she was given a choice, she would prefer her pre-COVID routine.
“I probably would rather be back to normal,” she said.
Perreault, meanwhile, is getting her first look at how an industry can be hit hard by a public health event. She has designs on pursuing a career in the field and has already decided to apply for the culinary management program at Algonquin College in Ottawa.
In the meantime, she said she is going to enjoy the program at GFESS, COVID or no COVID.
“It’s fun,” she said.
THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY: Back to class has been a new experience for the 2020-21 school year. Programming for students has changed, all with an eye to preventing the possible spread of COVID-19. Reporter Richard Hutton spoke to an instructor and students at Greater Fort Erie Secondary School to get their thoughts.
Richard Hutton, Fort Erie Post