Food and Finance High School in Hell’s Kitchen helps students learn to cook alongside professional chefs and enter culinary competitions, all while earning their high school diplomas.
But this year, the school has a problem, and it’s a big one: The kitchens don’t work.
On Giving Tuesday, a day when many nonprofits solicit donations, the school had a pointed request for the city’s Department of Education.
“On #givingtuesday, can the DOE give us gas, so our 430 students can learn to cook? That would be GREAT,” a tweet from the school’s account read.
School leaders say maintenance was performed on the school’s six kitchens over the summer, and should have been finished by the start of the school year. Yet, five of kitchens are still fully out of service, they said, and one has limited capacity.
That’s especially disconcerting since the kitchens were working in June when maintenance started, said Nan Shipley, chair of the board that helps fund Food and Finance.
“Something happened between June, when we turned over our kitchens to the construction authority, and today, when we still don’t have six working kitchens,” Shipley said.
Department of Education officials said they are working to fix the problem.
“The necessary repairs are being completed and we expect all of the kitchens to be fully operational in the next month, pending an inspection by the FDNY,” said education department spokesperson Toya Holness. “We will continue working closely with the school as we monitor the situation and provide ongoing supports.”
But school leaders said there has not been a diligent effort to fix the broken kitchens. The school’s principal, Roger Turgeon, sent a strongly worded email Tuesday to several people, including education department officials.
“What is amazing to me at this point is that EVERYONE knows how this is affecting the education of my students and no one is stepping up and saying, How can we make this happen? How can we get everything back online?” he wrote.
Until that happens, students are paying the price, Shipley said. Younger students are not able to experience the type of hands-on learning they were promised, and older students cannot prepare for cooking competitions that provide college scholarships, Shipley said.
“There’s nothing engaging them. They’re working from textbooks. They’re looking at slides,” Shipley said. “It’s scandalous that this is what they’re doing to us and our program.”