South-Western Career Academy students hold videoconference with restaurateur Cameron Mitchell

Alan Froman
ThisWeek group
Chris Wright, chef and South-Western Career Academy culinary-arts program instructor, demonstrates trimming and preparation techniques on a pork tenderloin for student John Worden, 18, as part of a test-kitchen exercise Nov. 4 at the Academy Grill. Students in the culinary-arts and hospitality programs at the career academy held a Google Meet session with restaurateur Cameron Mitchell on Jan. 21 after reading his memoir for a senior literacy project.

For the past two years, seniors in the culinary-arts and the hospitality and event-planning programs at the South-Western Career Academy have participated in a senior literacy project.

"We spent a couple months reading a book, chapter by chapter, and talking about the book with our students," hospitality and event-planning instructor Kevin Crabtree said.

Last school year, seniors read "The New One Minute Manager."

"The main focus of that book was on developing leadership skills," Crabtree said. "This year chef (Chris Wright, SWCA's culinary-arts instructor) and I wanted to pick a book that related more to the career fields our students are studying," he said.

The book choice for the first semester was famed restaurateur Cameron Mitchell's memoir, "Yes is the Answer. What is the Question?"

Crabtree said he and Wright had created short videos using the Flipgrid platform, reviewing and asking students questions about each chapter in Mitchell's books. The students sent their responses via Flipgrid.

As part of the unit, the instructors asked their students to write reflections on what they learned from Mitchell's book, he said.

The students also submitted with questions they would ask Mitchell as they read his book, Crabtree said.

In this case, it wasn't just a classroom exercise.

Some students were able to pose their questions directly to Mitchell during a 75-minute Google Meet videoconference held Jan. 21.

"What an opportunity for our students," Crabtree said. "For someone of Cameron Mitchell's stature to spend an hour and 15 minutes talking to students at a career academy, it was very generous of him. He's a busy man."

Mitchell spoke to the students about the importance of having a plan and setting a goal for oneself, he said.

"It's an important message for our students to hear – that you need to make a plan for doing something in your life," Crabtree said.

Mitchell's relationship with SWCA might be only beginning, said Debbie Stith, career-pathways specialist with the South-Western City School District.

"He said he plans to come and eat at our Academy Grill restaurant and, once the pandemic is over, have our students visit his corporate headquarters on a field trip," she said. "It's exciting to think how this can be the start of something that can benefit not just our culinary and hospitality programs but other programs, like innovation and entrepreneurship."

Senior Cody Brooks said reading Mitchell's book and getting to meet him virtually "was really cool.

"I found it really inspirational because he talked about how you can learn from your mistakes maybe even more than from your successes," he said.

Brooks is enrolled in the career academy's culinary-arts program and would like to open his own restaurant one day.

One of the lessons senior Alex Raudabaugh said he learned from reading Mitchell's book is that success is not achieved by oneself.

"You can't be too full of yourself and think you know all the answers," he said. "The restaurant business is especially challenging, and he said you should be willing to listen to others and be open to the good ideas they may have."

It was "an amazing thing" to get the opportunity to meet with someone who's so well known in his chosen field, senior hospitality and event-planning student Denise Cruz said. 

Mitchell was open about the challenges he had faced in developing his company, she said.

"I learned not to give up no matter how many obstacles you have," Cruz said. "Everyone has to overcome some kind of obstacle to succeed."

Hanna Smink said she wasn't sure what the Google Meet session would be like.

"It was super friendly, not scary at all," she said. "Cameron Mitchell talked to us like a normal human being and like we were almost colleagues and not a bunch of high school students."

She said she was inspired by Mitchell's achievement of turning negative aspects of his life into something positive.

"His dad wasn't always the best dad, but he used that experience to help him become a good father himself," Smink said. 

It inspires her to turn any difficult aspects of her life into positive lessons, she said.

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