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Anyone hungry? Culinary arts is latest high school focus

YORBA LINDA – Starting next school year, students who want to play with fire or knives will find a place to do it under teacher supervision in Yorba Linda High School's newest academy.

It will be the latest addition to the academies in the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District's four high schools, three of which now offer an academy with a specialty.

For example, Esperanza High School has an academy that centers on medical training. Because of a grant the district was able to secure, the school has an advanced electrocardiogram machine that many hospitals don't even have, said Cary Johnson, the district's director of secondary education.

"It's pretty amazing. These kids at Esperanza get a lot of hands-on use," Johnson said.

Though originally designed for students who faltered in traditional classes, the academies have also become popular with mainstream students who want to pick up specialized skills.

"An academy, in general, connects what students are learning to the real world," Johnson said. "Historically, academies have been put in place to address the needs of at-risk kids, but in our district, it serves a wider range of students."

Students in the classes earn the same credit as mainstream courses, and have the same learning objectives. It's just the manner of instruction and learning is a little more hands-on.

In a language arts class, instead of writing a book report, Johnson said, the assignment might be a little more high-tech: "They're learning the same curriculum, but they may put a video together about a chapter in the book they read. ... It's what we call differentiated instruction. Not every kid learns the same way."

Because of their specialized nature, students have to apply to the academy program they want to get into, but they are allowed to transfer to other high schools within – or outside of – the district to attend the academies they've been selected for.

Valencia High School offered the first program, starting about six years ago, with its ValTech academy: It focuses, as the name suggests, on technology. Programs are selected, Johnson said, "according to the culture of the school."

Yorba Linda High will have culinary classes, because they can be accommodated by the large kitchen facilities on the new campus.

El Dorado High School's video arts, photography and animation academy kicked in a few years ago after a large student response to a first-time campus film festival. Teacher Mark Switzer's supervisors give him credit for turning that into a popular program that recently won multiple awards at the Orange County Film Festival for "Hawk Talk," the seven-minute weekly newscast produced by one of the school's advanced classes.

For Kevin Munoz, the digital-media arts classes allowed him to follow his calling.

"I've always loved film and cinematic arts," he said, and when he was younger, he saw a video extolling El Dorado's program. "I thought it was done by somebody professional. When I found out it was students (who made it), I was amazed."

Munoz, a 17-year-old senior, said the class has given him the basics he needs to dive into film classes in college, possibly Chapman University.

"The skills we obtain here are on caliber with the professionals," Munoz said. "We use the same equipment."

Like Munoz, 18-year-old senior Faith Fuller, co-news director of the show along with Munoz, was drawn in by the work of past students.

"In the sixth grade, I would sit at home on the computer and watch 'Hawk Talk' all the time. It really inspired me," Fuller said.

Her career path has also been influenced by the advanced video classes, though not in the way one might think. She's not planning a career in the film industry, but instead wants to become a teacher because of her positive experiences in her three years of video classes.

About those teachers: Just like the academy classes are different, the instructors who teach them have specialized training in their subjects.

The medical teacher at Esperanza is certified to teach medical courses; the instructor for the food classes at Yorba Linda has a specific credential for culinary arts.

"Teachers who are in these academies are there because they're interested in the subject," Johnson said. "These are teachers who are very good at what they do."

Valencia High School

The Val Tech program focuses on computer technology, especially as it relates to business. The program offers students high-technology skills, a technology certificate, and preparation for college. Applicants need a B grade or better in algebra and honors language classes. Online:Ö.

Information: 714-996-4970 ext. 10024 or

El Dorado High School

The Digital and Media Arts academy emphasizes what instructors call “storytelling programs” in film, photography, and animation. Applicants must have a recommendation from a teacher or mentor and complete a creative project as part of the admission process. Online:Ö


Esperanza High School

Esperanza has a medical sciences academy and also a manufacturing/engineering academy. The medical academy prepares students for a career in medicine or entering university medical programs. Students can get college engineering credit for the other academy, or get career training. Applicants for the medical academy need high marks on standardized tests; at least a 2.0 grade-point average; and good citizenship.

Information: 714-986-7540 ext. 13003 or

Yorba Linda High School

The culinary arts and hospitality academy is due to open this fall along with the 2013-14 school year. It aims to teach cooking, customer service, and knife skills. Students must have at least a 2.0 grade-point average, good citizenship, and a teacher recommendation.

Information and applications are available online at; click on “academics” and then “culinary/hospitality academy.”

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