‘Not an ordinary class’: Prince William Co. chef instructor earns state recognition

What Ronald Evans does in class with his students is very practical. The lessons learned are edible and the experience gained by the students translates into the world of work.

Chief Instructor Ronald Evans teaches at Potomac High School.

Courtesy of Prince William County Public Schools

Potomac High School students prepare food as part of Chef Instructor Ronald Evans’ class.

Courtesy of Ronald Evans

A Potomac High School student prepares meals as part of the school’s culinary program.

Courtesy of Ronald Evans

A Potomac High School student prepares meals as part of the school’s culinary program.

Courtesy of Ronald Evans

When Ronald Evans was preparing to take over as Chief Instructor at Potomac High School in the summer of 2017, he considered ways to get more involved in the community.

Unfamiliar with the Dumfries, Virginia neighborhood, Evans sought to establish new relationships. As part of this process, he walked into a local cheesecake factory and asked for business cards. Staff were confused, he said, assuming Evans was interested in applying to be a server.

Instead, he spoke with restaurant management for about 20 minutes, taking deliberate notes. On leaving, he said that a year later he would have a list of students interested and qualified to work at the restaurant.

Evans’ desire to create opportunities for his students beyond the classroom has earned him recognition as the recipient of the 2022 Virginia ProStart Educator Excellence Award. The honor is given to instructors who are dedicated to their students and a ProStart program that offers restaurant industry skills to be learned in the classroom.

“I see how the other programs are out there, talking about medical programs, ROTC programs, (and I think), ‘How can I give more to my students?'” Evans said. “When they walk into class, are they going to get the same boring text? Will they get the same boring recipes? … I want them to come excited, with enthusiasm.

Evans spent 20 years in the Marine Corps and he uses some of his experiences to promote competition between juniors and seniors in his classes. During class sessions, Evans will prepare a demonstration in the kitchen and the students will act it out. Classes do things like bake breads and desserts, grow herbs, and taste spices.

The course isn’t just about cooking, Evans said, after a restaurant told him the best way to get jobs for students was to make sure they had washing-up experience. , service and the work of line cooks. Every two weeks, students rotate responsibilities, some of which include stockroom management, laundry, taking out the trash, and serving drinks.

Evans students also take ServSafe Manager and Food Handler courses, giving them certifications that may be required in certain professional positions. He said his students recently returned from a Cook Around The World contest at Disney in Orlando, Florida, where students competed against 66 other schools, working to create an appetizer and main course.

At the start of the pandemic, Evans was adamant that class couldn’t proceed much like some other subjects. Each week, he hosted a video call with chefs from across the United States to keep students engaged. One week he went to a farm and gave a lesson in apple picking. Sometimes he took students behind the scenes of a restaurant.

To keep students active, Evans coordinated with parents and students so they could do their bi-weekly grocery shopping. The students cooked for their parents, who then graded the final product. He periodically asked parents if he could leave recipes and other items at their doorstep, like an UberEats driver would.

“I wanted to make sure everyone benefited from it,” Evans said. “This is no ordinary class. It was never an ordinary class.

As the end of the school year neared, Evans students worked on a final project involving creating a pop-up restaurant, creating a menu and running a service for parents. , recruiters and local businesses.

“We’re inviting these people to see that we’re not just a home-based ecology classroom, we’re more than that,” Evans said. “We’re actually learning how to make appetizers, main courses, desserts, service skills, how to talk to people, how to do a resume.”

Evans said her enthusiasm in class was fueled by her Marine Corps background and family, especially her son, who died in a car accident last year. In a previous text conversation, Evans’ son predicted that his father would one day gain recognition.

“I want to show (my kids) that I’m excited, that I’m a man of God, that I wanted to do the right thing, that I always led a positive life,” Evans said. “And always show that if you don’t like a job, you shouldn’t do it. But if you love work, you should love work. If you are there, I love it.

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