Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Event #3: The Ongoing Adventures of Philadelphia Academies Students’ Cultural Treasure Hunt

The latest session of the Cultural Treasure Hunt began at the four-star Crowne Plaza Hotel at 18th and Market streets at 4:30 pm.  Deneen Cooper, Banquet Manager and Board Member of Philadelphia Academies, provided an all-access pass to the facilities at the 445-room hotel. In addition, Deneen shared her college experiences and tips for upscale service with the students. She led a group through an exercise of setting a table for a formal banquet event, with the proper placement of multiple spoons, forks and knives. A student named Natalie told me, “Now I know where everything goes and why it goes there. It makes sense to me”.  Natalie helped set a “blank table” and folded crisp napkins, using a previously set table as a guide for completing the task. By the time she and her fellow students finished setting the table, it was ready for a food magazine photo shoot.

Our group toured the hotel laundry facilities, ballroom/conference rooms, met the hotel’s General Manager Bob Cosgrove, and observed Chef Jon Bauer in the kitchen. The level of behind-the-scenes access was very comprehensive and impressive given the fact that the hotel was filled to capacity on the day of our visit.

Having worked up an appetite during the tours, the group reconvened in the dining room for dinner.  In keeping with the elegant surroundings, Chef John presented a multi-course meal with an extra special surprise: an intermezzo course (palate cleanser) of lemon sorbet served on an orange slice, which refreshed the diners between the salad course and main course. This was truly dining at its finest! I stopped by a table from George Washington High School to gauge the students’ reactions to the menu, and everyone gave their approval. Markita and Quadirah particularly liked the lemon sorbet.

Chef John and Sous Chef Peter provided dessert via a live culinary demonstration of Bananas Foster on Iced Lemon Pound Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream.  All the students gathered around while Chef John flambéed the sliced bananas in rum with a giant whoosh of flame and loud “oooooohs” from the group. The fire burned off the alcohol, but left a pleasant sweet flavor on the bananas. Chef talked thorough the recipe and the need for safety when flambéing. Dessert was a nice finale to the first half of the treasure hunt experience, and the students were fueled up and ready to travel to Allens Lane Theater in  Mount Airy.

Art Reach Program Manager Matt Bryan greeted the students at the theater. Matt coordinated the logistics of the cultural portion of the Treasure Hunt, and likes the fact that the activities take place after classes “because the students seem more relaxed after their day at school is finished”. 

During the bus ride, on the way to the theatre, students sang “school bus” songs like “Old MacDonald” with updated lyrics. I used the time to get to know some of the teachers a little better.  NEWSFLASH:  the teachers and Philadelphia Academies staff really love their students!!  They talked about their individual students’ aspirations and dreams, and how activities like the Cultural Treasure Hunt truly make an impact on student learning and interest in career development. One of the teachers, Joanne, mentioned the fact that she was currently teaching the Harlem Renaissance.  She continued, “The play we will be seeing tonight Blues for an Alabama Sun, is timely for our class”.

Allens Lane Theater is a relatively small venue that accommodates about 75 people in cabaret style seating at small round tables. This intimate space heightens the impact of the dramatic action taking place on stage, and the students were very attentive during the performance. At the end of the performance, they asked questions during a talk-back session with Director Kaleo Bird and cast members.

One student asked the cast “Do you really dress like that in real life?” The actor responded no, and explained the conventions of stage productions, mentioning the costume designer and the research she conducted regarding the period garb worn by the actors. An interesting revelation came about when a student asked about the actor’s personal lives and professions. As it turns out, a few cast members work with in the Philadelphia School system during the day and act in the evening. The cast instilled in the students the value of having dreams, pursuing passions, and find a way to do what you love, even if it is not as a full time vocation.

With the conclusion of the talk-back session, it was time to head home.  I thought back over the events of the evening and something that Philadelphia Academies’ Corvette Kittrell said at dinner really resonated with me: “ …we know that we have a direct impact on [student] college decisions. The behind-the-scenes tours also have a big impact on helping to make informed choices on career decisions”. In light of that comment, I give Cultural Treasure Hunt Event #3 a big “Mission Accomplished”!
The fourth event in the Cultural Treasure Hunt is scheduled for April 8, 2010.  Check back for an update on this exciting initiative.

-by Maureen Zug


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