Ketchikan High School students make jam in teacher Cameo McRoberts' culinary arts class at Kayhi. The students are back in the kitchen, but following new COVID-19 safety guidelines, such as not using communal plates, working in small groups and completing classwork in a separate room. Photo courtesy of Cameo McRoberts

The Ketchikan High School kitchen is still open for students to learn food fundamentals and try their hand at new recipes this year — with a few precautions in place.

Cameo McRoberts, in her third year as Kayhi's culinary arts teacher, told the Daily News on Monday that she is "really, really grateful" to be back in the school's kitchen, even if the students' cooking experiences will be different due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

"For me, it's changed, (but) ... it hasn't changed much," McRoberts said. "We're just kind of doing the best that we can do with the measures that we have."

To help with social distancing, McRoberts' class won't take place solely in the kitchen this year.

"One of the shining star benefits was I got access to a classroom this year," McRoberts explained.

The classroom lets the students to spread out at desks while they do their classwork, which allows for social distancing.

The students still have been able to work in the kitchen, but assignments are done in the classroom.

The curriculum designed by McRoberts includes lessons about kitchen safety, measurements and math, interpreting recipes and other related topics.

McRoberts' class is divided into two "paths," — cooking and baking — and has introductory and advanced curriculum options.

For students pursuing a culinary career or advancing on to culinary school, McRoberts also offers a credited independent course of study.

McRoberts at first was concerned that her students' enthusiasm for the class would be dampened by spending a portion of their time in a classroom this year, when for many students, the pull of the class is getting some hands-on experience with cooking.

"I think on the first day especially, because we were in a classroom instead of coming to the kitchen, I feel like the students were really nervous that they had signed up for culinary and that we wouldn't be in the kitchen," McRoberts said.

"My first thing when everyone walked in was, 'Don't worry, we're still cooking this year,'" she added.

The students have been working their way into the kitchen, where they've created jam and other pastries, as well as play-dough.

In the kitchen, a few changes have been made in effort to keep students and staff in accordance with mitigation efforts.

McRoberts said that she is careful to keep only the ingredients that will be used immediately that day out for students to handle.

The kitchen also has been modified to reduce lingering clusters of students, and materials and surfaces are being cleaned regularly.

McRoberts and her students also wear face coverings in the kitchen.

"It's so counterintuitive to have a mask on in the kitchen," McRoberts noted, saying that she has to speak loudly in the kitchen to be heard clearly, something that is made more complicated with the mask.

Communal snack plates also have been nixed this year.

"Instead of everyone sort of standing around and grabbing one off of the cookie sheet, we have to make sure that we put them on plates and just really kind of tighten up the sort of safety and sanitation in the kitchen," McRoberts explained.

The class also will not be participating in any catering activities this year.

Even with the changes this school year, McRoberts believes that the class is a chance for students to "decompress outside of the regular structure of a classroom."

McRoberts noted that this year, students have fewer but longer class periods, to reduce mingling of students.

"You kind of have a little bit more freedom to move around," McRoberts said of her kitchen. "It's kind of sort of a breather in the middle of the day."

Her kitchen, she said, is a nice break from the stress of a pandemic school year.

"I think culinary for a lot of students is nice because they get food, first and foremost — I mean, why else?" McRoberts joked. "For a lot of students, especially right now, you're sitting in a desk, you have a face mask on, it's a very sort of insular environment. And it's been a challenge to get kids to break out of their shell a little bit because they're literally in a shell."