ST ALBANS — As part of a new pilot partnership with the St. Albans Recreation Department, Maple Run Unified School District students spent their summer cooking, swimming and going on wild adventures.
The program makes its home at the Hard’ack Recreation Area, but students traveled to Cohen Park, Burton Island and many other places to take full advantage of the glory of Vermont summer. Some students spent their days raising a garden and picking sungold cherry tomatoes while still others learned how to play a miniature glockenspiel and other instruments.
During the really hot days, students learned how to dye ice cubes at St. Albans Town Educational Center or bounced their way down an inflatable water slide down by St. Albans Bay. If they could take the heat, students flocked to their school kitchen for a multi-grade cooking competition, or went to Hard’ack for a group hike in the woods.
“There’s a nice menu of options for families to choose from [this year],” Superintendent Bill Kimball said. “At the end of the summer, we’ll collect feedback [on the programming] and see how we can improve the operation in the future.”
Last year, the district launched a credit recovery program to bolster student academics, and this year learning programs were beefed up into “mini-courses.” Some courses took one day to complete, while others might take a week. Offerings included outdoor hiking and wellness, cooking and painting.
This year, SATEC’s famed “Chopped” competition returned to in-person, and students in grades five through eight donned emerald green aprons and put their cooking skills to the test in four weeks of cooking camp. The judges Karen King, Charlie Wise and Linda Marlow gave each team – the Golden Spatulas and the Crazy Cookies – a box of mystery ingredients that included cooked sausage, corn on the cobb, instant beef ramen and yucca, a root native to the southern United States, Caribbean and South America.
The return of the fast and furious competition came with extra pressure this year: the fourth judge, Taylor Olds, had once been a member of “Chopped” as a SATEC alumni and knew the pressure well.
“This competition taught me how to be a good team leader, how to cooperate, so many things,” Olds said. “My parents weren’t big cooks, and Ms. King was the one who taught me … My friends and I would sign up for Chopped Camp every single summer.”
Karen King's mother first taught her to cook, and the passion carried over into her life’s work as an educator. With the help of the bountiful school garden and its bushels of green beans, tomatoes, peppers, herbs and squash, elementary school students spent a large part of their summer learning about different cuisines, cultures and dishes from around the world.
And while zucchini fritters were fun to make, the students didn’t shy away from the surprise competition where they had to use standard, school-kitchen ingredients and tools to create something edible, appealing and delicious. For two weeks, the students practiced “Chopped” every day, competing with surprise ingredients and made-up dishes.
While the Crazy Cookies used their noodles and sausage to make a yucca-noodle soup on Tuesday, the Golden Spatulas made a take on a yucca shepherd’s pie topped with boiled noodles. Points are awarded for the students’ dishes and added up at the end of the week, and a winner is declared.
Olds is a former champion and member of the widely-feared “Cereal Killers,” “Mrs. King’s Favorite” and “Better than You” teams, and helped come up with some questionable combinations.
“You learn to take failure as an opportunity,” Olds said. “Our team made hash brown-type of things … in whipped cream. I don’t know why we did that. I think there were pineapples in there too.”