Mile High Middle School’s Life Skills kitchen program gets $30K boost from Jewish Community Foundation
By Nanci Hutson
Originally Published by the Daily Courier August 17, 2023
Walking into the new kitchen lab for the Life Skills program at Mile High Middle School in Prescott, eighth grader Indie Rutherford’s mouth was agape. “This is so cool; it doesn’t smell like canola oil; it’s such an improvement!” she shouted.
Thanks to a more-than-$30,000 grant through the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Prescott that included discounted prices from local appliance, cabinetry, and kitchen counter design businesses, Mile High’s seventh- and eighth-grade students now have a high-caliber, full rehab of their former culinary space. The renovations created five new kitchen workstations complete with double ovens, double-steel door refrigerators, and a rear counter lined with bright red Ninja blenders and new crockpots; Kitchen Aid mixers, and two countertop composters to create dirt from their organic waste that can then be used in the school’s gardens where students can grow herbs for use in their recipes, Life Skills instructor Heather Christians said.
“It’s so clean,” admired fellow eighth grader Ginger Munoz to the nods of fellow students viewing the space for the first time.
One of those students, Will Gray, said he is excited that this gleaming culinary space with new utensils, cook and bakeware, dinner plates, cups, and cutlery, as well as all new spices and needed supplies, is not just going to benefit now enrolled seventh and eighth graders. He said this long-awaited kitchen space will teach hundreds of future students how to cook, bake, and be part of a culinary team.
“I was really happy,” Gray said of the renovations able to offer students a first-class environment where they will learn valuable life lessons “and have fun.”
Christians admits she is wowed by the new space; she admitted she cried when she opened all the boxes of new appliances her students can now use to do everything from cook ingredients for tacos to mixing the dough for Snickerdoodles.
On one of the former kitchen stovetops, the now-two-year course instructor recalled that it took 52 minutes to boil an egg. When baking, students were often scrambling to share baking pans and other required utensils and with shared oven space often ended up, inadvertently, impacting another group’s baked good temperatures while checking on their own.
“I’m just so excited,” Christians said of the possibilities this renovated space provides for students now and in the future.
Beyond the grant to make this possible, Christians said the foundation’s executive director, Christine Resnick, took a personal interest in assuring this project turned out to be exactly what was needed. Christians said Resnick joined her at a local store to pick out the exact appliances she wanted for the kitchen.
“There was a lot involved in what they’ve done,” Christians said of the foundation’s generous donation that included Lowes professional services Supervisor Brian Arce and Matt Greenlee of Greenlee Design Surfaces. “They are so amazing.”
Christians offered shout outs to her twin daughters, Emma and Lucy, who helped her degrease all the walls prior to repainting the kitchen space; her husband, Corey, who built their new pantry spaces; fellow teachers Stephanie Grotbeck and Melinda White were Christian’s painting assistants; and teacher Nancy Jauregui and parent Camryn Norman joined her in washing, by hand, every single new pot, pan, dish, cup, actually, every new item the students will be using as part of their cooking and baking lessons.
Resnick is clear she was “ecstatic” about shepherding as the “project manager” what proved to be a community endeavor she takes pride in as an “investment” in students who will one day be the leaders of tomorrow.
“It was a no-brainer for us,” Resnick said of receiving Christians’ application for a more limited grant that expanded given what was determined to be needed for what Resnick said is now a space students will take pride in as part of their “academic careers.” “We were just ecstatic from the beginning because we knew how impactful this would be; and Mrs. Christians is an amazing teacher.
“It’s been a joy to work on this project.”
This is not the first time the local Jewish Community Foundation has proved a key PUSD benefactor. A year ago, they invested $65,000 in an inclusive playground for the Discovery Gardens preschool. In the course of the past five years, the foundation also donated $45,000 for a new media lab at Prescott High School and $35,000 for musical instruments to benefit students at the Granite Mountain. The foundation, too, has provided grants to the Chino Valley and Humboldt Unified school districts.
Resnick said the foundation wishes to be an inspirational catalyst for future donations to benefit area schools and the community. “It takes a village, and together we make the community better,” Resnick declared.
Prior to this celebration, Mile High received part of another $30,000 donation from One AZ through the PUSD Education Foundation to open its new multi-sensory classroom and sensory garden project. That grant also benefited both Taylor Hicks Elementary and Granite Mountain Upper Elementary School.
Mile High Principal Ashley Tetreault said she is honored that these students are viewed as deserving benefactors of such community generosity.
As she admired everything from the new countertops and cabinets to the stylish aprons and appliances, Tetreault said it is simply “amazing” what can be done when the community comes together to benefit students in their learning environments. The prior kitchen was serviceable but not all that practical for students to learn the skills Christians wants them to acquire and share with family as they incorporate them into their everyday life.
In this kitchen, Tetreault said, students will apply mathematical skills to calculating recipe measurements; hands-on science as they experiment with temperatures and ingredients; and, indeed, every content area is applicable in this kitchen setting.
“For our community partners to make such awesome places for our kids to be is so wonderful,” Tetreault concluded. “Our community’s investment in Mile High is awesome.”