for those who need them most
Higgins with students at Camp Scudder.
Photo Reprinted Courtesy
of Los Angeles Daily Journal.
Higgins teaches culinary arts for Mission College. But
not many people on campus know her. Thats because her
"classroom" is located at Camp Scudder, a probation
facility in Saugus, where Higgins teaches the finer points
of the gourmet arts to youthful offenders.
Catering director Arturo Luna has a similar assignment. He
teaches culinary arts to juveniles convicted of crimes who
are being held at Camp Holton in Lake View Terrace. Not far
away at Phoenix House (also in Lake View Terrace), at-risk
youth receive lessons in food production and sanitation and
safety from instructors Robert Baradaran and Dr. Eloise Cantrell.
Students who take the classes earn credits through Mission
College. It began as a pilot program in 1996 as Mission Colleges
effort to help at-risk youth. Since 1998, nearly 750 juvenile
detainees at camps Scudder, Holton, Miller, Malibu and Phoenix
House have received the college credits. Its believed
that some have gone on to take culinary classes on the campus
after being released, although no specific figures are available.
"I usually lose touch with most of my students after
theyre released, but the camp officials tell me many
of them have gone on to find jobs in the food industry,"
said Higgins. Cantrell said one student who started at Phoenix
House went on to win a scholarship to attend the Culinary
Arts Institute in Santa Monica.
A certified executive chef, Higgins has been teaching the
camp classes for four years. Luna is in his first semester.
Both agree, the work is challenging. Higgins said her 15-
to 18-year-old students are incarcerated for everything from
theft to drive-by shootings. Luna said some of his students
cant read, and several who kept disrupting the class
had to be dismissed.
"Now Ive got a core group of about 15 students
and theyre really into it," he said.
The teaching conditions, meantime, are not perfect. Higgins
said her students, many of them raised in low economic circumstances,
are unfamiliar with common vegetables such as broccoli. The
right ingredients often are not available for certain dishes,
but students learn to improvise, she said. At Camp Holton,
flame was not available until late in the semester, Luna said.
Both instructors agree the rewards outweigh the challenges.
As Higgins puts it, a lot more is involved than just teaching
the students a few culinary skills.
"Youre giving these students life skills
and helping them to become respectable adults with a real
future," she said.
That thought is echoed by Luna in describing a 16-year-old
student of his who is about to be released from his third
camp stint. Luna said the teenager surprised him recently.
"He told me, Im not coming back again.
When I asked him why, he said, Cause now I have a skill.
Alexis Higgins and her work at Camp
Scudder were featured in the Los Angeles Daily Journal. Read
BY EDUARDO PARDO