EXAM: Frederick Douglass High School Breaks Stereotypes of Alternative Schools

Mar 30, 2015

Credit Marissanne Lewis-Thompson/KBIA

  In the past, alternative schools have been associated with their negative reputations. It’s typically understood as the place where the “bad kids” go. However, from the outside looking in, Frederick Douglass High School looks like the average school. But the reality is Douglass is not a typical school. It’s an alternative school. However, the school’s non-traditional approach to student learning started to catch wind. Douglass has broken down the barrier of stereotypes with the help of a cooking class and a teacher.

My cuisine teacher Dara Booth at Douglas High School is not your average teacher. When she’s with her students she is reminiscent of an older sister rather than a teacher. But it is her dedication to her students in and out of the kitchen that has created a gateway of communication. Booth said Douglass gives teachers the opportunity build relationships with its students.

“I can message her on Facebook and say ‘where the heck are you? Get your butt to school,’” Booth said. “And she might give me an excuse, but then come.”

This bridge of communication has transcended into Booth’s weekly My Cuisine class, which teaches students the basics of cooking. Students spend most of the week in class learning the set curriculum, but once a week they hit the school’s fully equipped Bulldog Café to put their cooking skills to use.

The Bulldog Café primarily receives most of its food from Lucky’s and buys the remaining food from Sam’s Club. But Booth said the kitchen is where all the action is.

“I mean we share recipes and we talk trash,” Booth said. “You know, who is going to have the best brownies or the best macaroni or the best sauce. And being respectful, but still having fun. Just things that you would do with friends and family and it feels like I get to step back from the teacher role a little bit.”

On today’s menu item is an American classic—macaroni and cheese.

Credit Marissanne Lewis-Thompson/KBIA

Eleventh grader Alon Powell enjoys cooking because it gives her extra dash of confidence. But Powell said the one thing that sets Douglass apart is the genuine attitudes of the teachers.

“I feel like the teacher's actually trying to help, and it's not like a chore for them,” Powell said.

And ninth grader Audrey Taylor feels the same way. Taylor said despite the school’s “artsy” feel Douglass gives students the opportunity to achieve academic success.

“It's a better school for people who learn in different ways,” Taylor said. “You know? And I think it has a reputation of like "bad kids" going here, but it's not all bad. Like there’s really good people that go here.”

Although she is aware of the common stereotypes and the misconceptions of her students, Booth said the kitchen is the place where the judging stops and the students are given a second chance at innocence.

“It can really be disheartening,” Booth said. “I mean they all know all the stuff that's going on, and some of them are in it. They are in the middle of court stuff or whatever that they have to deal with for choices that they've made. But I feel like in the kitchen I get to see that that child side of them that probably didn't get a chance to grow up and they can you know they can be that kid in the kitchen.”

While Booth’s goal is to give her students the tools they need to succeed inside the classroom she said the main thing she wants her students to walk away with is the mindset that they have value.