Culinary Kingdom at Wylie High School

Students learn life lessons in expensive kitchen

A Wylie High School teacher is using the culinary arts to teach her students there’s more to the kitchen than just food.

Chef April Barney heads a class where what’s on the menu prepares her students for the rest of their lives.

They work in a full-service culinary kingdom with an attached restaurant, all right next to homeroom in the middle of Wylie High School.

It combines a pound of personal responsibility with an ounce of ownership, stirs until the students understand and serves when ready.

“We’re building character as much as we are building plates,” Barney said.

Only open Thursdays and Fridays, breakfast starts at 7:30 a.m., and lunch ends at 2 p.m.

The school's thousands of students can’t dine there because Texas law stops it from competing with the school’s main cafeteria. But the law says nothing about the faculty or the public.

“We have a lot of reserved parking spaces in the back that are just for the café,” Barney said.

“Yeah, one day like last week, we had, like, 30 people up in here," student Brandon Harris said. "Like, it was crazy. It was crowded, you know, serving all these tables."

And then there’s the phone and online orders.

“People who have a tight lunch schedule can email in a to-go order or they can email in an order that they want to sit down and dine in, so it’s ready for them to pick up,” Barney said.

And this is only class. There’s extra credit for students who want to stay after school and help cater.

“It’s been amazing,” Barney said.

When you’re talking temperature, Texas is hottest during the summer  -- unless you’re in Barney’s kitchen.

“Growing up, I was kind of one of those hard-knocks cases and so, for me, I think that that helps me relate a lot to a lot of my students,” she said.

Some students call her loud and bossy but know her tone -- which rises faster than thermostats -- is the warmth they need.

“Basically, she’s a lion. She’ll pounce on you if you get out of line,” Harris said.

Barney, the director of Culinary Arts at Wylie High, is also known as "Chef B" and "Chef Mom."

“I started living life at a very early age,” Barney said.

She teaches her students that if they can't stand defeat, get into her kitchen.

“There are no barriers here,” Barney said.

“She’s a great teacher. She knows how to get the message through real well,” student Chris Clark said.

Barney is also a problem-solver.

“When I have kids who are kind of in the same situation or don’t necessarily have the advantages to start, I know how to get to resources because I had to seek them out myself,” she said.

The guidance all takes place in a classroom most students in the United States never see.

“Aww -- it means a lot," Clark said. "Not many other high schools have a $60,000 kitchen."

And Barney is the ultimate kitchen aid.

“I help kids find money for school," she said. "We do scholarships. We seek it all out."

If she doesn't know about it, she goes looking or asks someone she thinks knows about it, Barney said.

And at an age where homework is like eating your vegetables, her students ask for seconds.

“You know, I’m just trying to be a better person, be a good son -- you know, try to get out of the house, go to college and become a man,” Harris said.

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