Pressure Cooking in Philly

We live a half-block down from our neighborhood’s public high school. About a month ago, when walking Moxie, I noticed there was an unusual number of white vans and work trucks parked alongside of the school. I mentioned my observation on Facebook and a friend directed me to an Inquirer article about Rachael Ray remodeling the school’s culinary arts classroom. Whuh? Come again? Rachael Ray at little ol’ Frankford High??? And wait — Frankford High has a culinary arts program??? Mind you, previous to this, I’d only heard negative comments about the school. So, it was nice for me to hear something redemptive was happening there.

Rachael Ray invited Bobby Flay to share a recipe with the class.
Photo by David M. Russell (Rachael Ray Show)

To my surprise, after further web-searching, I found that the story gets even better. Not only does Frankford High have a culinary arts class, but that it has a 100% graduation rate (as opposed to 60% school-wide). Not only that, but Frankford’s culinary students have dominated the city-wide Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP) cooking competitions for over a decade. And much of their success can be attributed to the dedication and toughness of their teacher, Wilma Stephenson, who has been at it for over forty years. The success of her students caught the attention of Jennifer Grausman (the daughter of C-CAP’s founder), who decided to produce a documentary following the story of her classroom and students over the course of a school year. Named Best Documentary at the 2009 Philadelphia Film Festival, Pressure Cooker just came out on DVD and is next up in my Netflix queue.

Pressure Cooker DVD, and images from the filming

So, a month after noticing the work trucks, I got to see the much-awaited classroom makeover episode of Rachael Ray on Monday morning. And lemme tell you, the tears were flowing during every segment. But, hey, I’m a crier (really, ya don’t say…). But seriously, I dare you to visit Ms. Ray’s site and watch all the segments of the show (in order). If your eyes stay dry throughout the whole thing, please see a doctor immediately, for you must have a lead soul.

Using my keen sense of observation, I figured out that Christian, one of the current seniors in Ms. Stephenson’s class, lives right up my street! (Screen captures from the Rachael Ray Show)

On a side (but very related) note, if you watch the final segment of the show, you will hear Ms. Ray mention that the C-CAP program is ending. That is not technically true. Rather, C-CAP’s relationship with the School District of Philadelphia is in danger. In order to get more state funding, the school district has made a decision to transfer the focus of their culinary arts curriculum from “back of the house” (read: kitchen) jobs, and more towards “higher paying, front of the room” jobs. Because this emphasis is not within the scope of C-CAP’s mission, after 2012, they may no longer be sponsoring contests and scholarships in Philly. And that would be a shame, because the chance to compete for scholarships is one of the main goals that Ms. Stephenson’s students strive towards all year. Those scholarships give them hope for a better future, one that they’ve worked hard for and deserve. I really hope that whatever decisions are finalized, are made with the best interests of the students in mind. Because I want want to continue to hear about great things coming out of Frankford High in the days and years to come!

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