At Hartford's Culinary Arts Academy, Students Lead Start To New School Year

At Hartford’s Culinary Arts Academy, Students Lead Start To New School Year

At Hartford's Culinary Arts Academy, Students Lead Start To New School Year

Student Leadership Team Optimistic For Final Year At Weaver

Student Leadership Team at Weaver's Culinary Arts Academy

Members of the Culinary Arts Academy's Student Leadership Team pose outside Weaver High School. At far right is Principal Timothy Goodwin. (Vanessa de la Torre / August 29, 2013)

HARTFORD — After their first-ever summer camping trip, student leaders at Weaver High School's Culinary Arts Academy had a bigger challenge awaiting them: Being in charge of the first day of school.

Members of the academy's new Student Leadership Team spent at least 30 hours organizing last week's opening day, Principal Timothy Goodwin said. Students were responsible for the schedule and activities, which included a dance contest and explaining the school rules to their classmates.

A primary expectation is to "stay in class" and avoid roaming in the hallways during instructional time, said sophomore Karina Baez, 16. "We're just trying to make sure everybody has fun this school year, but make sure they get a good education …

"They're getting there," Baez said.

One of Goodwin's goals is establishing a sense of peace, unity and achievement at Culinary Arts Academy in 2013-14, expected to be the school's last full year in the Weaver building before it closes for renovations.

A $100 million plan is moving forward to overhaul the struggling Weaver "as new" by fall 2017. State funding was approved earlier this summer; the next step is soliciting proposals from prospective architects to begin the yearlong design process, said Jack Butkus, director of Hartford's school construction program.

District administrators have discussed temporarily relocating Culinary Arts Academy to another location in the city, beginning with the 2014-15 year. Superintendent Christina Kishimoto has said that Weaver will become a "construction zone" in spring 2005.

A smaller, renovated Weaver would enroll up to 1,354 students in three career-oriented academies: the arts and sciences, architecture and urban design, and hospitality and tourism, where culinary arts would be taught.

In the meantime, the Student Leadership Team aims to make the most of students' remaining days at Weaver.

"I wanted to make a change in my school," said 16-year-old junior Terece Thomas.

About 220 out of 300 enrolled Culinary Arts students attended last Tuesday's first day at the 370,000-square-foot North End building, which surpassed staff expectations, said Goodwin, who credited the intrigue over a student-organized opening schedule.

Teachers recommended students for the leadership team earlier this year, but anyone who was interested could join. A two-day, team-building camping trip was held in mid-August at the Community Farm of Simsbury, where students — many of them new to camping — picked from organic gardens, cooked a ratatouille pasta dinner, practiced their public speaking and planned for hours.

For Aug. 27, Hartford's first day of school, Culinary Arts staff made breakfast for a morning "eat and greet" with the student body. More than a dozen teen leaders, wearing shirts with the tagline "Accomplishing Great Things," showed students where classes were located and explained the school's programs and expectations.

After lunch, the team convened a dance showdown for the entire school, and then hosted an African dance performance from the Artists Collective, a school partner.

"Giving students the first day was risky," said Goodwin, a new principal who previously served as dean of Weaver's Student Success Center. "We showed we have faith in them and they delivered."

Their work is just beginning. Last Thursday, Goodwin convened a lunch meeting in the principal's office for students to offer ideas for the new year, which included community service initiatives and a schoolwide movie night.

Dejah Rice, 17, a senior, proposed an inspirational wall in the academy that features photos of Weaver students who have done well, whether in sports, academics or in the community.

Other students, Rice said, might think, "OK, they did something, maybe I'll do something, too."

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