Summer Academy students get busy in the kitchen

Marjorie S. Miller
August 03, 2015

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – On a rainy summer day inside Henderson Building on the University Park campus of Penn State, two dozen teenagers are busy preparing breakfast in the food lab: omelets, bacon and smoothies.

The students have varying levels of visual impairments, including blindness.

Some of these students aspire to be future chefs and foodies. Some are new to the experience of food preparation altogether. But the one thing they share is a love of learning and a desire to become successful, independent adults.

Chef Kristi Branstetter, food lab instructor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at Penn State, is teaching a cooking class as part of the Summer Academy for Students who are Blind or Visually Impaired. The program, in its second year, is offered in collaboration with Penn State’s College of Health and Human Development and College of Education, the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network, and the Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation’s Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services.

Summer Academy 2015

The food lab in Henderson Building was bustling with activity as students from the Summer Academy for Students who are Blind or Visually Impaired made omelets, bacon and smoothies. 

IMAGE: Kevin Sliman

For Branstetter’s class, students are learning and using skills to help enhance their independence in the kitchen. These skills include cutting, timing food items, cleanup, chopping, spreading, measuring, flipping, pouring, communication with fellow students, and proper use of the oven, stove, and other devices.

“I am overwhelmed with how capable they are,” Branstetter said. “They are unafraid of the kitchen. They may have some challenges ahead, but they’re ready.”

In addition to implementing culinary skills, students in Branstetter’s class also are taught the importance of kitchen and cooking safety, such as taking precautions when using heat, and how to make healthier food choices in the kitchen.

“It’s been absolutely wonderful,” said Karen Fleisher, vision rehabilitation therapist with the Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation’s Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services. “I really think they’ve developed a lot of skills they’re going to take with them.”

The Summer Academy hosts up to 25 high school students each year from across the state and helps prepare them for life after high school. This year’s academy was held July 12-31 on University Park’s campus.

The cooking class is just one component of the program. The academy also focuses on daily living activities, travel skills, self-advocacy and networking skills, career awareness, social skills, enhancing access technology skills and low-vision rehabilitation.

All students attending the academy reside at Penn State in a dormitory. There they share rooms with other students, eat meals in a campus dining hall, and immerse themselves in other activities reflective of college life.

The Summer Academy is available at no cost to eligible students currently enrolled in ninth, 10th, 11th or 12th grade and who anticipate attending a two- or four-year college or technical/trade school after graduation.

  • Chef Kristi Summer Academy 2015

    Chef Kristi Branstetter, food lab instructor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at Penn State, is teaching a cooking class as part of the Summer Academy for Students who are Blind or Visually Impaired. For Branstetter’s class, students are learning and using skills to help enhance their independence in the kitchen. The program, in its second year, is offered in collaboration with Penn... Read more ›

    IMAGE: Kevin Sliman
Last Updated August 03, 2015