The garlic sizzled as it bathed in hot olive oil, while a group of students huddled around the stove. They watched as the chefs added fresh vegetables to the mix, then combined heavy cream and parmesan cheese to make a thick sauce. Tossed with fettuccine pasta, it made a classic alfredo primavera.
Joel Galan was among the half dozen Lincoln Alternative High School students taking part in a cooking lesson on a recent afternoon. The chance to learn cooking from local chefs appealed to Galan, 16, who said he liked to cook. "I like to get creative with spices," he said.
Gary Norton, head chef of Jacobi's Restaurant, and cook Grant Goddard were at Lincoln to share some cooking basics, and walk each of the students through preparing the dish themselves.
When the school-day ends at Lincoln, many enriching activities are just getting started. At the same time as the cooking lesson, other students were in a classroom rehearsing scenes for an upcoming play. Still others were learning about film-making in the school library, and a couple of musically inclined students were laying down tracks in the school's newly established recording studio in a basement space.
The varied activities are all part of the school's LIFT program, or Lincoln's version of the 21st Century Community Learning Centers. The federally-funded programs seek to bring enriching activities to schools outside of the regular classroom hours.
Early on, director Jeremy Gradwohl wanted to give the program a name unique to the culture of the school. The LIFT stuck, and summed up the positive and unique vibe Gradwohl was looking to bring.
"That's a nice metaphor for how the program can work within the school," Gradwohl said.
"That really worked. Everything goes up."
Gradwohl then started setting up activities for students to explore. His goals include getting kids thinking about careers, keeping them motivated and making sure they get through school.
Through The LIFT, Lincoln students put on a play last year for the first time. They established a school garden, with plans to sell produce at the farmer's market this year. Gradwohl said he is working on getting a greenhouse set up at the school. During lunch some days, students can take part in karaoke. On Wednesdays, Lincoln students can bowl free at Stardust, knowing they will have to keep score manually to drill math skills.
"With such a diverse crowd, I have to run several programs," he said.
The number of students taking part in each program can vary, but are usually in small groups: two in the recording studio, about five in the play, and several in the film-making session and the cooking presentation. But for a school of about 250 students, where getting students to attend consistently is a daily challenge, keeping nearly a dozen students for after-school programs is also an achievement.
And the programs Gradwohl has helped initiate are sparking interests that go beyond after-school activities. After the play last year generated interest in drama, the school was able to offer theater as an elective through English teacher Riki Wauchek. Wauchek is also coaching students of the school's new debate team.
"I think the program has done a lot for the general self-esteem of the school," Gradwohl said.