Dublin High School Senior Accepted Into Prestigious Culinary Institute of America
In the classroom, a student’s ringing cell phone is often an unwanted distraction. However, on this one February morning at Dublin High School it continued to ring. Senior Marcos Castro recognized who was calling. He sheepishly asked his first period English Teacher, Chris MacDougall if he could take the call in the hallway. The request was granted. The next words that he would hear would validate the hard work that he had invested at Dublin High School and would also affirm his aspirations.
“Mr. Castro, this is the admissions office at the Culinary Institute of America in New York. We are pleased to inform you that your application for acceptance has been confirmed. We will be mailing hard copy documents for you to review in the next two weeks….” The remainder of the conversation may have been a blur. He burst back into the classroom and announced the news to his classmates. He then immediately called his mother. With tears in her eyes, she congratulated Marcos on his achievement. On his way to second period class, Mr. Castro took a detour to H07 so that he could inform Culinary Arts Instructor, Jackie Lawson. The irony is that very few people know how this storybook ending came to be. It is the tale of a very simple act of kindness and a teacher that could see promise in a young student.
Included in the “a-g” curriculum courses required by the UC and CSU systems, Dublin High provides many additional elective opportunities. They include, but are not limited to Childhood Growth & Development, numerous ROP programs, Pathways to Engineering and the Culinary Arts Program. The current leader and architect of the culinary program is Jackie Lawson. Ms. Lawson attained a B.A. in Merchandising and Design from Sacramento State University. She then embarked on a highly successful career in sales and marketing with consumer goods giant Johnson & Johnson. Professionally, she was fast tracking, but so were her responsibilities. Extended travel was becoming more common and life balance became more of a factor as her family grew.
In 2000, Jackie shifted careers and began to substitute throughout the Dublin Unified School District. To cement her commitment, she attained her teaching credential from Chapman University (Walnut Creek campus) in 2008 and is certificated in both single and multiple subjects. Ms. Lawson pioneered the Culinary Arts programs at both Dougherty Valley High and Gale Ranch Middle School in San Ramon. Ever the recruiter, Principal Shimizu continued to reach out to Jackie and encouraged her to someday return to Dublin. Her return became official in 2009.
OneDublin.org recently had the opportunity to visit with Jackie Lawson to discuss the Culinary Arts Program and her “chance” meeting with Marcos Castro.
OneDublin.org: Your program has come a long way since 2009. Probably the most obvious is the space that you and your students work in. Give us a contrast between then and now.
Jackie Lawson: “It was different for sure. The equipment was badly outdated and we had gold linoleum! Many of the cabinets were in disrepair and we were cooking on electric stoves. But, we knew that a new Student Union and cooking classrooms were on the horizon.”
OneDublin.org: Given both your familiarity with DUSD and your professional background, why did you feel that you would be a great fit for this role?
Lawson: “I’ve been cooking all of my life. Additionally, I had previously been exposed to the catering and interior design industries. But, because of my strong background in sales and marketing, I really believed that this element would be an asset to the program.”
OneDublin.org: The kitchen/teaching area serves a dual purpose as it is located adjacent to the new Student Union. Measure C funds went a long ways towards installing commercial grade appliances. But what about all of the other cooking tools?
Lawson: “What has been very rewarding is that our program has been self sufficient. Our program has provided catering services to virtually every site in this district. In addition, we have provided services to the City of Dublin, the Police Department, the Library and the San Ramon Women’s Club, among others. A very big part of what we do is to treat this as a business. The students and I map out the cost of materials and determine what we will charge. While we are not a commercial enterprise, the students need to understand how to build in a small profit margin. In return, we have been able to purchase every bowl, measuring cup and ingredient bin. Our program is sustainable and we’ve done it by being smart. My students can tell you how much to costs to bake a batch of cookies.”
Marcos Castro always had an affinity for cooking. He remarked that while watching food programs as a youth that he could easily replicate what was being demonstrated. As a young teen, he and his mother relocated from Point Loma in San Diego to Dublin. Upon his arrival, Marcos enrolled as a 7th grader at Wells Middle School and then promoted up to DHS. As they are both very close, Mr. Castro wanted to do something special for his mother’s birthday by baking a cake. Of course, the surprise would be ruined if he attempted this at home. On a flyer, he approached Ms. Lawson to inquire if he could utilize the school facilities. She obliged. But what struck Jackie was not only this moment of sweetness, but also his ingenuity to find another solution. Subsequently, she encouraged Marcos to enroll in the culinary program. Ordinarily, this enrollment would require the completion of Foods 1-2 and/or a recommendation by teacher Nicole Slavec. They easily crossed this barrier and off they went. OneDublin.org’s conversation with Marcos continues.
OneDublin.org: What started out as a small dabbling in the culinary program has turned into so much more. Please explain.
Marcos Castro: “I continued with Catering as a sophomore and then have participated in Advanced Catering as a Junior and Senior. I have also served as a Teaching Assistant to support my fellow students.”
OneDublin.org: Admittance into a renowned institution like CIA requires additional work experience in a commercial setting. How have you gained this?
Castro: “It’s been great and I’ve had many experiences. I worked a summer at Castlewood Golf & Country Club. I’ve also taught at the cooking school at Draeger’s Market in Blackhawk.”
OneDublin.org: Once you committed yourself to pursuing this profession, what schools were you considering and how was the application process?
Castro: “I had considered many options. Ms. Lawson opened my eyes to the Culinary Institute. At the same time, I looked at Johnson & Wales University and the program at Diablo Valley College (DVC). As we discussed, one of the prerequisites was six months in a professional kitchen – I had already fulfilled that. I also submitted a letter of recommendation along with my application that Ms. Lawson wrote on my behalf.”
OneDublin.org: Finally, how do you view this next chapter in your life and what would you like to do with it?
Castro: “I’m ready for a new life. I’m a little nervous about making new friends, but this is one of the greatest places that I could be. Perhaps I’ll be able to build my own catering business or restaurant – maybe even run a boutique hotel. Get ready New York – I’m coming!”
It simply began with a birthday cake for mom. This story will continue at one of the most prestigious culinary institutions in the world. OneDublin.org congratulates your accomplishment, Marcos. Your classroom mentor and school community support your dreams.