Located in Fulton County, Georgia, the Riverwood International Charter School is a 9-12th grade magnet school serving a diverse population of students from across the county. With an average enrollment of more than 1,850 students, its mission is to prepare students to be confident, creative, compassionate global citizens. Riverwood has adopted a program called Career Pathways, which includes broadcast video, business and computer science, Healthcare science, engineering, and culinary arts.
As of the fall 2020, culinary instructor and Chef Elissa Oliver will be entering her eighth year at Riverwood. Her resume features four degrees, including a Master’s in Health Promotion Education from the University of Mississippi. Oliver worked as a chef at the Cherokee Town and Country Club and the Viking Cooking School, but it was during her time as a personal chef for the director of the Hospitality Education Foundation of Georgia when she was inspired to teach high school students. Recently, in a competition against culinary teachers from 40 US states, she placed first in Best Practice and Knowledge Sharing, and Teacher of the Year in Culinary Arts/Prostart for the entire state of Georgia. Oliver explains, “It’s not a job; it is truly my passion.”
Getting admitted to Oliver’s culinary course is no small matter. “We have about 300 incoming ninth-graders who want to take my class, and only 60 spots, so it is very sought-after. I am very tough,” she says. “Cooking is fun and important, but I try to teach these kids life skills and employability. If you’re not showing up at work, then you’re going to get fired, so you have to show up to every class on time. Everybody says, ‘Oh, culinary, it’s like home ec.’ Not even close.”
Riverwood’s teaching kitchen is a state-of-the-art, 4,000-square foot facility designed to fully immerse students in the daily operations of a working kitchen. It features a cooking area with stove units, grill area, prep tables, storage facilities, as well as an adjacent classroom sometimes used as an overflow room so more students can view the instruction on a display.
With a newly installed Kramer Control cloud-based system, Oliver is able to channel her real-world kitchen experience into creating a dynamic, engaging learning environment. Adam Yates, Vice President at Nisewonger AV, the integrator, explains, “We wanted Elissa to be able to focus on instruction, so we developed a system using two PTZ cameras and tied it back to Kramer's VS-44UHDA matrix switcher, which gives her the ability to project content from the cameras or from her own device onto the three 55-inch displays for the students to see details of the cooking demonstration.”
With an easy-to-use Kramer Control interface accessed from the Kramer KT-107 7-inch touch panel, Oliver has a lot of options. “We’ve got presets set for the prep station and a couple other areas, but she also has the ability to move the cameras electronically (zoom in/out, pan & tilt) to cover the space well for live instruction or training videos.”
Utilizing Kramer’s VIA GO wireless presentation solution, Oliver sometimes complements her live demos by showing on-demand content from online culinary school, Rouxbe, which she streams from her laptop.
When Oliver wants to move freely around the kitchen, she can use the VIA Pad. “It’s a USB dongle so she can walk around, and from anywhere she can wirelessly connect and project content from her laptop or device straight to one or all the displays at any time,” says Yates. A wireless mic system ensures her instructions are intelligible during livestreaming and recording. “For livestreaming we use an encoder used to broadcast out, or record to a computer,” added Yates.
The Kramer system also gives Oliver the flexibility to teach more students. Yates says, “If she’s got an overflow of students, she can send the video to the classroom so they can see what’s going on.”
Perhaps most importantly, with Kramer’s centralized master control, Yates was able to provide an easy to use solution that suit Oliver’s needs. “We can turn the displays and the cameras on and off; we can control the cameras; we can control the matrix; we can tell the system to send any input to any output.” Yates says, “We wanted to provide a good user experience for her that was effective and efficient, instead of just being this awesome system that she’s not going to use because it’s too complex.”
Based on the ever-evolving information about the COVID-19 pandemic, school districts across the US continually monitor and weigh the decision to have in-class sessions or to teach virtually, and Fulton County is no exception. The recently installed Kramer technology at Riverwood has not yet been used to teach students at home, but the capability exists to livestream course material, if necessary. Yates explains, “Elissa has a headset microphone in case she wants to record audio and video for an instructional video. She can do a full-on culinary instructional video if she wants to.”
To livestream or pre-record material for remote learning, Oliver would simply need to set up a channel on YouTube, or an equivalent service. But while she admits the prospect of a YouTube channel is slightly intimidating, the utility is hard to ignore. “It would be nice, if I’m doing a lab, to go and record it and set it up to where, ‘Hey, if you did miss what we did, then there’s no excuse.’”
Oliver emphasizes that she feels well-equipped to handle whatever logistical challenges might come this fall, “I’m already better set up if I have to teach virtually.” She adds, “I’m excited about the new system; it couldn’t have come at a better time.”
As of the end of July, Oliver has reported that she will be virtually teaching from her classroom with her new Kramer system.