Students in Sara Gerber’s Family and Consumer Sciences class at Fourth Avenue Junior High School learn a lot that one may learn in a home economics class, but the class is more than your typical home ec.
Students have opportunities for college and career readiness and their most recent one took place last month.
With the help of the Yuma Arizona Business and Education Coalition (ABEC), Eddie Guzman, owner of Julieanna’s Steak and Seafood and Takos and Beer, and Richard Hernandez, a chef at Julieanna’s, taught Gerber’s classes to make sushi and teriyaki bowls.
Heidi Jones, director of strategic partnerships at Yuma ABEC, explained that she connected Guzman and Gerber because she wanted chefs in the classroom. Doing so introduces students to people from the actual industries they may want to work in someday. By starting with middle school students, Yuma ABEC’s middle school programs and partnerships can help them make choices for high school, college and beyond.
Yuma ABEC offers curricula and a place for community members and classrooms to connect via Community Share, but a lot gets done through its partnerships too.
“For ABEC, I have a leadership team made up of business partners: construction, culinary, agriculture, education and the like,” Jones said. “We meet once a month and talk about what ABEC is doing and where we are going with things. Chef Eddie is part of the team and he said, ‘Yeah let’s do it, let’s get in the classroom!’”
And that’s how Guzman and Hernandez ended up in Gerber’s classroom, sharing their skills and their experience. As Hernandez prepared California rolls and Guzman cooked teriyaki chicken, they told students their stories getting into culinary arts.
Guzman was a dishwasher at Julieanna’s when he was about 16, but he started cooking at his aunt and uncle’s when he was 10.
“At the beginning, we didn’t have a whole lot of food so the only way was for me to become a chef and a cook,” Guzman said. “Now I’m not hungry anymore. I’m excited when we cook and put smiles on people’s faces.”
Hernandez shared that he also started young. He cooks French and Mediterranean cuisines these days, but before that he was a dishwasher, then a line cook and then a sushi chef for five years. Hernandez also joined the culinary program at Arizona Western College, from which he’ll be graduating this semester.
As he led the students through the demonstration, he taught them about the difference between sushi rice and regular rice, how to properly roll sushi and how to cut it just right. With crab, cucumber, rice, cream cheese and seaweed wrap, Hernandez’s rolls resulted in some very happy students.
“This was my first experience with kids and I really enjoyed it,” he said. “Seeing future generations already involved in this program is something I’m very passionate about and it truly makes me feel fulfilled.”
As part of their instruction, Guzman and Hernandez discussed how much math they use every day in their cooking, not just in measurements, but also in calculating the value of dishes and the cost of foods and other materials as well as managing payroll.
“I think it’s amazing that they take time out of their busy days to educate students on options they may have for careers and to hear their stories where they came from and succeeded,” said Gerber.
For Guzman, the opportunity to inspire these students is part of a larger initiative for him. He’s currently expecting to receive the 501c3 status for his nonprofit, the Eddie Guzman Foundation, this month. He hopes to further help high school students by providing them with better equipment and other resources. For Fourth Avenue Jr. High as an example, he might start by getting them cutting boards and knives to help.
“My interest is to mentor and inspire younger generations,” Guzman said. “Not necessarily just in the culinary arts, but in the community. That’s my biggest focus: to get them off of the streets from bad habits.”
Guzman and Hernandez weren’t able to teach Gerber’s final class of the day, but Jones still managed to get them an opportunity to learn about cooking from farm to table with Nikki’s Chickies Farm. Through Yuma ABEC, she hopes for more of these types of engagements to continue in Yuma’s classrooms and one major way to get involved? Community Share. The platform connects community members with classrooms to collaborate on projects.
To learn more, visit https://www.yumaabec.com/communityshare.html.
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