Free World - September 15, 2021

Keith Pretlow had to get creative. As the pandemic plunged Philadelphia’s Benjam…

Keith Pretlow had to get creative. As the pandemic plunged Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin High School into remote learning in March 2020, the culinary-arts teacher needed to find a way to keep teenagers engaged in what was normally a hands-on class, while also overseeing senior activities and pushing students toward graduation in his role as senior sponsor, writes Madeleine Carlisle. So 32-year-old Pretlow turned to the Internet, adjusting his teaching style and using Google Meet to demonstrate his recipes. Parents were invited to take part in class and to cook at home whatever recipes the class was trying out. Pretlow even launched a “Cooking With Chef Pretlow” club, open to the entire school, over Google Meet; he answered questions, and families competed in “plating contests” to see who could make the best-looking dinner. Because not all students had access to ingredients at home, he expanded his curriculum to cover the business side of culinary arts—including Business 101, Accounting 101, hospitality law and food science—in addition to recipes. His goal was to keep the kids invested in their education. “Kids pick up whatever you put down. If you make it positive, you make it fun, it will be fun and positive for them,” Pretlow tells TIME. Because he cooked all day for class, a masked Pretlow would leave meals at the doors of a couple of students’ homes around once a week. “That was a way to stay engaged with the family as well,” he explains. Pretlow has since been promoted to assistant principal, so he won’t be cooking with his students when classes resume. “It’s bittersweet,” he says. “But now I’ll be able to impact a lot more kids.” Read more about the educators who saved a pandemic school year at the link in bio. Photograph by @michellegustafson for TIME


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