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Creating Student Taste with Dave McNeilly Public School’s Culinary Arts Program

Creating Student Taste with Dave McNeilly Public School’s Culinary Arts Program

Dave McNeilly Culinary Arts ProgramDave McNeilly Culinary Arts Program

By Kiran Malik-Khan

Fort McMurray Public School District


Dave McNeilly Public School’s Culinary Arts Program (CAP) - the only elementary program of its kind in the city - has been a major hit since its launch in September 2018. It started out with 20 students, and has now grown to 34 students taking two weekly classes in a custom-built culinary lab.


CAP’s goal is to “provide students with basic culinary skills, knowledge of food and kitchen safety, cross curricular connections between culinary arts, numeracy, literacy, and art, to name a few. We want to engage students in an area that interests them while providing essential life skills in the kitchen,” explains Roxanne Fudge, Dave McNeilly Principal.

The lab features five cooking stations, thanks to Stu Wigle, Manager, Earls Restaurant, who has been a generous supporter of the initiative.


“I learned of the culinary arts program through Roxanne Fudge. We were talking one day and she along with Vice Principal, Diane Rizzuto asked me if there was anything I was interested in doing to help.”


The help came in many ways. Wigle, whose two sons are Dave McNeilly students, went above and beyond to staff, equip, and run CAP. Giving back to the community is important to him, and his wife, Dana - personally and through Earls.


“We never wanted to be disconnected from what our kids are doing and we still believe it takes a village to raise a child so we just want to do our part for the village,” notes Wigle.


“As for Earls, firstly, the business represents Dana and me so it goes back to participating in the village, and secondly, leadership and mentorship are strong business values that I hold. This doesn't happen more effectively than it does at a young age. So if we can get in and make a difference early then we believe there will be a better outcome for all our kids.”

Wigle has put these values into action. He not only teaches the program often, but has staffed it with Red Seal Chefs.


“We have taken on the full financial responsibility to run the program and have tried to get other businesses involved as well,” Wigle notes.


This is how he helped Dave McNeilly procure the best equipment at an affordable cost.
Fort McMurray Public School District (FMPSD) is grateful for this collaboration. Wigle/Earls Restaurant was awarded with the School/Community Initiative Partner of the Year at our last year’s Partners in Education reception.


Principal Fudge appreciates the collaboration.


“Stu is committed to growing the program and is flexible in pursuing things that the students enjoy. It is a class where food and fun science collide,” she notes.

And, this commitment is also reflective in Lio Valdez. A former Executive Chef of Earls for five years, Valdez is one of the abovementioned chefs recruited by Wigle to teach CAP. He is with a private catering company now, and enjoys teaching the program.

“I’ve been cooking for over 15 years; and want to be a culinary teacher, so this is great. The students have been amazing.”

“Culinary arts are important because they teach fundamental skills like using a knife properly, being organized, and safety, which we focus on primarily. I wish I had this opportunity when I was younger. Our ultimate goal is to have students be involved in school, create relationships, and take these skills home to cook with their families,” Valdez explains.

Sparsh Shah is one of those students, who is taking the skills back to his family.


“We learn safety tips, so you can teach your mom and dad too. It’s so much fun. Cooking and then eating is fun. We’ve made rock candy, pumpkin pie, sugar cookies, ginger snaps, and cheesecakes,” shared the grade 6 student.


Charmy Shukla is in grade 5. She also enjoys the program.


“It’s so much fun. We learn new ideas for baking. It helps you because when you’re older, then you know how to cook. The most fun part is to see how the cooking turns out.”


Fun mixed with learning is what we like to hear as we develop student taste at Dave McNeilly Public School.

Doing What’s Best for Kids. For more information on any of our 16 schools, visit: www.fmpsdschools.ca. For real time updates: follow us on Twitter: @FMPSD @DougNicholls2 and like us on Facebook: Fort McMurray Public School District. We are also on Instagram @FMPSD.