Students take ingredients from the field to table to deliver exquisite cuisine

Desert Sands Unified School District CTE programs (Career and Technical Education) provide students opportunities to find careers in the number one industry in the valley – agriculture. Both Indio High School and La Quinta High School have programs that provide opportunities working with food but in very different ways. At Indio High School, students in this program, most of whom are members of FFA (Future Farmers of America), learn the science and the business of agriculture. At La Quinta High School they take ingredients and create masterpieces in their study of the culinary arts.

IHS Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources Program

By Cesar Lopez, teacher

Despite all the challenges facing our CTE students during the previous academic year, our Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources (AFNR) CTE students had a successful school year. With the cancellation of the 2021 Riverside County Fair and Date Festival, and the fairground being used as a COVID-19 testing and vaccination site, our students were unable to participate in raising our traditional livestock student projects. Our program usually uses the fairgrounds as our livestock school farm, but this year we were unable to utilize the facilities. We hope to bring back the livestock program during the 2021-2022 academic year.

DSUSD Puts Into Practice Field to Table Concept

Educational three-circle model

Our educational model can best be explained by the three-circle model (pictured in this article).  The heart of our program begins with rigorous, hands-on, standards-based curriculum and instruction that is connected to relevant learning with the largest industry in California, agriculture. Our students apply what they learn in class and in an outside, hands-on, standards-based project known as their Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE). Students grow their leadership skills through their involvement in the Career Technical Student Organization (CTSO) and Future Farmers of America (FFA) program.

Students and teachers adapted to virtual learning during the last school year and continued to earn industry certifications and requirements for college credit with Mt. San Antonio Community College in both animal science and ornamental horticulture coursework.

DSUSD Puts Into Practice Field to Table Concept

A girl feeds a pig as part of the Indio High School Agriculture Program.

In addition, students learn about floral design and salesmanship and their creations are sold through the CV Harvest Box Farmers’ Market in Palm Desert and the Artisan Market at the Westfield Shopping Center.  Our hope is to host our own Farmers’ Market in the future as we collaborate with other CTE programs on campus and bring awareness of nutritious, high quality access to fresh fruits and vegetables to the eastern Coachella Valley residents. Our vision is that students will utilize our outside learning laboratory to grow and harvest fruits, vegetables, honey, and eggs and sell our organic products to the public.

For more information on this program, email

NOTE: Congratulations to teacher Mamie Powell who was recently named the top teacher in agriculture education in the state of California by the CATA (California Agricultural Teachers Association).

Cooking up a Career

By Chef David Wood, teacher

DSUSD Puts Into Practice Field to Table Concept

LQHS Culinary Arts

La Quinta High School has a professional food service program: the Culinary Arts Academy. The program takes a “hands on” approach, and students have the opportunity to learn about the different fields in both foodservice and hospitality. Students hear from local chefs and business professionals and are introduced to a vast array of cuisines and cultures, broadening their awareness of food and the related career opportunities. The Culinary Arts Academy is an award-winning program that has sent students to the finest culinary schools across the nation. Our high-tech kitchen facilities are better equipped than most restaurants.

Students are offered dual enrollment classes with College of the Desert during their sophomore and junior years. Senior year focuses on the restaurant business and they learn how to open their own restaurant, following a real world model. Academic coursework includes:  Introduction to Culinary Arts, Culinary Fundamentals, Hors d’oeuvres and Appetizers, Charcuterie, Culinary Arts III, and an Internship class.  The combination of theory and real-world experiences provides students with a complete and accurate understanding of the foodservice and hospitality industries.

The LQHS culinary program provides catering services and is well-known for its Blackhawk Challenge series of evening meals where two local chefs are provided a list of ingredients and come up with some creative and delicious menus. Two teams of students assist the chefs in the preparation of the meal. Ticket holders enjoy the food and have the opportunity to vote on the winning meal of the evening. The program was on hiatus during the past school year but both chefs and students are anxious for next year’s Blackhawk Challenges. For information on catering services, the Blackhawk Challenge, or the culinary arts program email

DSUSD Puts Into Practice Field to Table Concept

LQHS Culinary students making dessert in the kitchen.

Students who apply themselves to our program acquire the many skills that will benefit them in the future. At the very least, they will be equipped to prepare wonderful meals for themselves and their families, or they may use the experiences gained to help them be successful as a professional chef or any other position in the foodservice industry.  It is a lot of fun too! Take it from the students who have provided these comments.

“Culinary is definitely one of the best classes and courses I’ve been a part of; not only are you being able to learn and experiment every day, you also get to have a little feel of what college may be like as the culinary building is probably the most advanced building in the school.” Rod Perez, 11th grade

“My culinary experience was overall great! I made lots of friends and memories. We are more than just some ordinary class because it’s not some regular class that you get in high school. This is something that will follow us into our careers and something most other schools don’t.” Kaitlyn Smith, 12th grade

“The La Quinta High School Culinary Arts Program has been a great experience for me because it encouraged me to let out my creativity through cooking. Culinary has been an amazing place to try out unique foods that I would never even think about trying.” Lily Garcia, 11th grade

“At the beginning of joining the program I went in with the mindset of it being another elective. I would soon understand that it’s more thoughtful than any other. I’ve learned a lot through the program. They’ve given me more of a reason to love cooking.” Sebastian Daza, 11th grade

NOTE: Registration is now open for preschool at DSUSD. Call 760-771-8775 got information.







Image Sources

  • Dsusd-logo: DSUSD
  • Girl feeding pig: DSUSD
  • Dsusd-5: DSUSD
  • Landscape photo: DSUSD