Scattered between photos of friends and family on her phone, Xandria Simms also keeps snapshots of the intricately decorated cakes and baked goods she’s put together from her family’s kitchen in Nikiski.
They are the desserts and delicacies the Kenai Alternative High School senior has been preparing with her mother for her new business Boho Bakes, inspired by her experience from the Work Force Development cooking class taught by school teacher Susan Byrne.
“I am not good with paper and pencil artistically but I think that I could do some cool things with fondant and frosting,” Simms said.
The spunky, highly focused student has already drawn up her five-year plan for the company she continuously expands on between homework and family. Right now she has been using word of mouth and recommendations from friends to promote her regular, gluten-free and vegan products.
Simms usually sits down for a consultation with her next client to figure out a budget, dietary preferences, allergies and vision for the end product, and tries to keep everything as affordable as possible. In the few months she has been in operation, she has carried out a variety of styles including a giant blue octopus and naked red velvet cake.
Simms said she has found out oftentimes the learning process can be a challenge.
There is often a moment where she panics and thinks, “This is going to be , this is not what I envisioned, then it all comes together,” she said.
Her new passion did not come out of nowhere.
When Simms was younger, she dreamed of starting her own bistro. After bouncing between an interest in psychology and culinary arts, Byrne’s class became the catalyst for a more steadfast decision.
Byrne has been teaching the cooking course biannually for a few years, and annually for the past five. She is one of the school district’s longest working employees, having been staffed at different sites for the past 37 years. For 23 of those, she has taught home economics.
Byrne said she sees her role as helping her students learn their way around the kitchen, but also the logistics of feeding oneself or a family. She helps them understanding budgeting for groceries and purchasing nutritious ingredients and how use them in healthy homemade meals.
At the end of every rotation, of which there are five in one Kenai Alternative school calendar, each student picks a dish to present in one cumulative and collective class feast. Friends and family are also invited to share in the festivities and Byrne makes sure she is the only one standing and cleaning for the duration.
“They do a stunning job,” she said.
Simms said she fought and fought to make sure she would be the one cooking the tiramisu for dessert, and then, laughing, proceeded to make it all wrong.
However, she is one of the most studious pupils who have taken the course far beyond what was expected inside the classroom, Byrne said.
“She is a go-getter,” said school Principal Loren Reese. “She came into the building and set goals and was exceptional at it.”
Both Byrne and Reese said however unexpected Simms’ enthusiasm is, it is exactly what they hope their students will get out of the course.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s Work Force Development Program, headed by Work Experience and Work Force Coordinator Matt Widaman, offers the most hands-on, direct career experience any student will have the chance to get during their high school years. Throughout the school district Widaman brings shop, career and technical education courses, culinary arts and even medical work options to students before they have graduated.
Byrne said taking classes where they can get actual work experience prepares students far more than if they were thrown out into the world after school without any knowledge even of what they don’t like. Reese said it also gives them a chance to get certificates, such as the food handlers permits they must get through Byrne’s cooking class, for free.
“The world of work is where we want them to go, you know, or the world of education, whichever they want to experience,” Reese said.
Reach Kelly Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org.