Skip To Main Content

Former DVHS student returns to DVISD to start career in culinary and hospitality program

Former DVHS student returns to DVISD to start career in culinary and hospitality program
Christian Aleman-Rodriguez

This semester has been a full circle moment for Del Valle High School culinary teacher Ashley Jenkins and her new student teacher, Jessica Suarez. In the span of nine years, Ashley has established and nurtured the culinary and hospitality program and now has one of her very first students cooking alongside her in the kitchen.

Jessica Suarez, a former DVHS student, returned to campus in January and reunited with her teacher-turned-mentor to complete her consumer sciences degree from Texas State University. It’s been a kind of homecoming for Jessica, who was in Ashley’s second cohort of students in 2015, just as the program took off.

“It was nice to know that I was getting extra help, but knowing it was my former student made it even better. I had been in touch with her throughout her whole journey,” Ashley said. “Once she was officially assigned to me, I told all my classes daily: ‘You know she's coming? Like she's coming!’ I was so excited; I was like a little kid.”

A years-long connection to Del Valle inspired Jessica’s return to DVISD. She knows the community well, having lived in the area for 13 years and attended schools in the district through freshman year. Ashley’s impact on Jessica in that one year she was in her class also pulled Jessica to the district, as the two remained in close contact after Jessica transferred schools and eventually attended college.

“Meeting Ms. Jenkins and joining hospitality taught me about caring for and serving people. It's not just about being served but also about serving everybody else. I saw that with Ms. Jenkins, where she gives everything for her students and provides anything they need. That was a big influence on me because even just the consumer affairs program is all about giving to everybody else and not just serving yourself,” Jessica said.

Jessica’s return to DVISD granted her a unique perspective — an opportunity many student teachers often don’t receive. She recalls the early days of the culinary and hospitality program when they had to borrow classrooms and practice for cooking competitions using paper plates. This time around, Jessica joined a program with a full-size commercial kitchen, uniforms, and napkins of all kinds of colors.

“I bring that perspective to students because they see how it is now and don't appreciate it as much as someone who went through everything. I talk to my students, and I’m like, ‘Hey, this is a really good opportunity for you. You should do this, and you should try this,’” Jessica said.

Jessica's previous experience at DVISD and growing up in the area have quickened the pace at which she is learning to lead a classroom.

“I've already had her, so I know how amazing she is. So now I've already started to show her all the ropes. She's come with me to go shopping, and I show her how we do this, purchase orders, and pick up the district credit card,” Ashley said. “It's not just her in the classroom and learning how to lesson plan. She's got that down. Trust me.”

In a short time, Jessica has made an impact on her own students, similar to Ashley's, especially on native Spanish speakers. She’s the first Spanish-speaking teacher to join the culinary and hospitality program, providing instruction and encouragement in a way students can better understand.

“One day, I was that Spanish-speaking student and didn't understand anything. So I want to help them as much as I can,” Jessica said.

“Having somebody who speaks Spanish and understands the hospitality industry helps because a lot of them don't understand how great of an industry it is,” Ashley said. “I don't speak Spanish, so it's easier for her because she can explain it to them in their native language, and they'll see it as an example.”

With May just around the corner and the end of Jessica’s time as a student teacher looming near, Ashley won’t have to worry about seeing Jessica go so soon. Recently, she decided to launch her teaching career with DVISD at Student Teacher Signing Day, officially becoming a full-time teacher.

“It’s very rewarding being here, to be on this side of things instead of being the student,” Jessica said.

“When you start next year, you'll already be ahead of the curve because you'll already know these things,” Ashley told Jessica. “But having her here, I'm so excited, like I really am. She's been such a help. Oh, my God. I already told her I'm coming to her graduation. I didn't make any plans so that I could go to her graduation.”