Project-based learning helps students succeed

From Dallas ISD Staff Reports

Jason Hamilton graduated from Justin F. Kimball High School in 2002 and has now come back to Dallas ISD to put his 24 years of culinary experience and 18 years as an executive chef to use in the district’s newest career and technical education initiative.

Despite facing challenges such as obtaining permits and determining logistics like street maps for truck height restrictions, the project has seen significant successes.
Photo courtesy of Dallas ISD

Hamilton, a career and technical education coordinator, is overseeing the management of the district’s food truck initiative, ensuring smooth operations across participating schools. 

He ensures that students are taught the technical, culinary, management and entrepreneurial skills needed to run a food truck. The food truck program is set to transform the student learning experience, Hamilton said. 

The food truck is expected to be fully functional by the 2024-2025 school year when the initiative will roll out to another six culinary programs. Once it is in operation, the food truck will rotate among the high schools and serve meals at high school games and special events, following the culinary instructor’s decisions and getting approval from CTE and campus administrators and with the appropriate permits from the City of Dallas. The rotation system will allow time for training and proficiency development among students and instructors, Hamilton said.

“We’re excited to see our students gain hands-on experience in entrepreneurship, budget management and culinary arts,” Hamilton stated. 

Intuit inc., a software company that specializes in financial software, provided a fully operational food truck with a commercial-grade kitchen, allowing career and technical education students to learn the technical, financial, and entrepreneurial skills required to manage a business. This mobile kitchen is the third in the nation and the first food truck to be donated in Texas as part of this initiative. Bryan Adams, Moisés E. Molina, and Skyline are the three high schools that will be involved in the launch of the food truck initiative.

Students from each participating high school will contribute to various aspects of the food truck’s operation. Business students will handle marketing, point-of-sale operations, and budget management, while graphic design students will design menus, truck wraps, and promotional materials. Culinary arts students will oversee menu selection, truck operations, food preparation, sales and cleaning.

“The concept of the food truck is to allow the student experience to expand from the classroom into the real world through collaboration from multiple programs of study,” Hamilton said. 

His experience in the culinary world allows him to manage purchases, support students and teachers, and identify requirements for equipment. He also more efficiently communicates with vendors and other program partners while staying organized, he said.

In addition to his work in the school district, Hamilton runs and operates a catering company called BACN (Bringing Affordable Catering is Necessary). Founded with a college friend to provide meals for university events, the BACN now caters just three events a year. 

The key to Hamilton’s success in the culinary world is due, in part, to his mantra, “Talk it like you walk it.” This is the same approach he brings to his work in Dallas ISD as he continues to work with teachers and students to overcome the obstacles of setting up a food truck and getting the program off the ground. 

Despite facing challenges such as obtaining permits and determining logistics like street maps for truck height restrictions, the project has seen significant successes.

“We’ve received the keys and title for the truck, and the students have been able to witness their creation come to life through project-based learning,” shares Hamilton. 

For many students in Dallas ISD’s Culinary Arts programs, the food truck initiative represents more than just a learning opportunity — it’s a path to employment and entrepreneurship. Hamilton believes that the food truck will motivate students to keep learning and improving, key aspects of being successful in school and in life. 

“This expansion of the classroom is a game-changer for our students,” Hamilton said. “To be a part of this unfolding journey is truly priceless.”