High School Program Ignites in South Dallas
Students at South Dallas’ Lincoln High School are taking classes on nutrition and culinary arts as part of a special program. In the future, this program could expand by incorporating a restaurant inside the high school, where students can learn how to become chefs and business professionals.
“They didn’t know anything about healthy eating, but they’ve been open and willing to learn,” culinary arts teacher Diane Gaines said of her students. “We’ve made things they’re not used to, but they’ll taste it and see that it makes you feel good. They go home and make the recipes themselves and they learn about different nutrients and how to substitute unhealthy food. Some of their mothers have been asking me for the class recipes.”
The program is a joint effort between a local non-profit organization called Get Healthy Dallas (GHD) and a communications capstone course at Southern Methodist University. Communication Studies professor Owen Lynch and his class of 14 students have been trying to raise grants and money all semester long. Lynch has also been in close contact with the Dallas Independent School District (DISD) and says it has shown considerable interest in the initiative.
“DISD has given us a wing of the school for the demonstration kitchen where students will learn and watch professional chefs,” Lynch said. “The students can get certified through their classes and their restaurant will service the community by providing healthy food.”
This initiative came about two years ago, when the SMU Ethics Design Team and their advisor, Stacy Cherones, came across the concept of a food desert. Cherones says she was shocked to learn that an area just ten minutes away from SMU had such limited access to fresh and healthy food.
She and her team then partnered with South Dallas community advocate Robert Foster and started GHD. Cherones and Foster also asked Lynch to assist them with their research. Together, they designed a study by asking Lincoln students to take photos of their environment.
“We found out that students had a more holistic understanding of health and were looking for a more holistic solution,” Lynch said.
The students of Lincoln High School wanted to learn more than just the right kind of food to eat; they wanted to learn about how to access healthy food, how to prepare healthy food and how to get good jobs, Lynch said. They discussed the need to clean up their environment and addressed the lack of respect some people have for their neighborhood.
Based on their findings, Lynch, Cherones and Foster started the “Ignite Academy” program at Lincoln. Their curriculum is based on culinary arts, nutrition and entrepreneurship and is molded after a philosophy called asset-based community development.
“You don’t go to a place and just give people money because even though it makes you feel good, it will only solve things in the short term,” Lynch said. “That’s how most charities work. We make sure to find out what assets are available and devise ways to use them to make long-lasting, sustainable change.”
Lynch is hopeful that the restaurant will someday be built and he plans to continue seeking funding for it. Both he and Cherones say that the goal is to help young people find ways to be more self-sufficient and to solve the problems of living in a good desert.
“I think it’s an expression of our commitment to ethics as related to food,” Cherones said. “Living in a community without access to healthy food – you’re in a bind. You don’t have the same ability to thrive like others. This is something that we can address better as Americans.”
Patricia Villacin is a senior at Southern Methodist University studying journalism and education. She can be reached at email@example.com