Thirty years ago, when I was attending junior high school at Gaspar de Portola magnet in the West San Fernando Valley, home economics was still a class designed to teach girls how to be good housewives. Most of my teachers and peers abhorred the very existence of the class as a throwback to the 1950s, an era they saw as one of domestic servitude for women. To compound matters, the potluck-style recipes, torn straight out of Good Housekeeping, were losing resonance with LAUSD's changing demographic population.
Flash forward to 2013. Dawn Roznowski's foods classes at Hoover High School in Glendale are an even mix of girls and boys. Roznowski has a Bachelor of Science in Home Economics from Cal Poly Pomona and a certificate from the California Culinary Academy. She started working in restaurants at the age of 14; students call her chef. She's a far cry from the Church Lady-esque figures we vaguely recall from our teen years — and her multifaceted experience is reflected in the curriculum and her adaptive teaching style.
“Foods” is broken up into three semesters. The first two cover the basics of home economics within the framework of hospitality industry jargon and organizational structure. The final semester, called “Advanced Bistro,” is entirely aimed at career-minded students. Her students sell prepared foods at school fundraisers, train as baristas, participate in culinary scholarship competitions and volunteer to feed the homeless.
Roznowski's fourth-period class is a mix of 9th through 12th graders. Foods is taught in two large rooms. One is a standard classroom designed for lectures; the other is a demo room with multiple workstations and stoves. Students work in groups of their choosing, develop their own dynamics and roles based on the French kitchen brigade model.
As with so many schools in Los Angeles, Roznowski's students are exceedingly heterogeneous, and not just in terms of cultural background or English-language abilities. Roznowski teaches special-needs students in her fifth-period class, where the focus is very much on basic life skills.
Some students admit that they took the class to fulfill career prep elective requirements.
“It was either this or stage arts,” says one girl who shyly walks away without giving her name. Others are quite serious, like Kelly Crockett and Christian Pirim, who are practicing tournÃƒÂ©es with instructors from C-CAP in hopes of making the preliminary cut for C-CAP's scholarship competition.
Two Hoover students have captured top prizes in the past. Edlin Kosravi won a $56,000 scholarship to the Art Institute in 2010 and Anais Vartanyan won an $80,000 scholarship in 2008 to Johnson and Wales.
Recently, three foods classes collaborated on creating a dinner menu — pasta primavera with herbed chicken, Caesar salad and focaccia — for a local homeless shelter. Each class prepared a course during school hours and a handful of volunteers went to the shelter to help serve and clean up.
When Roznowski took over the home ec program at Hoover 10 years ago, she immediately changed the name to foods and revamped the curriculum to include professional projects such as C-CAP. Whereas home ec didn't qualify as a required career development elective, foods does. She took the core principles of home ec — health, hygiene, cooking and management — and made them relevant. And just as important as relevant, she's made them fun.
Susan Ji-Young Park has written three articles for Food Cultures of the World Encyclopedia. Follow her on Twitter at @SParkThis. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.