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Students at Francis Lewis High School learn culinary and hydroponic skills to feed each other and their futures

Class Act: Students at Francis Lewis High School learning to serve up success
Class Act: Students at Francis Lewis High School learning to serve up success 08:23

NEW YORK -- Francis Lewis High School is home to an incredible program in Queens, where kids rise to a challenge each and every day.

It's a diverse school where over 60 languages are spoken, and it would take eight years of high school to cover all the programs offered. 

For our Class Act visit, Chris Wragge is highlighting the hydroponics and culinary departments -- something you don't see at every high school.

"This is an amazing resource. What we're trying to do here is give life skills to students, so that they can find jobs in the future. After graduating high school, they can have the skills to work in kitchens, to learn how to cook for themselves, and just basic life skills so that they can live life," Chef Neil Syham told Wragge. 

The culinary program is only three years old, but it already has a line out the door and reservations are hard to come by. Some 350 students have come through the college program, and the coveted spaces book fast.

"I'm actually really excited to be here freshman year... I actually didn't want to pursue anything related to culinary, until I got into this program. They introduced a lot of topics to me that I actually didn't know about," student Caleb Koh said. "When people think about culinary, they think it's all about cooking and all this working and manual labor. But there's actually a lot of science behind that, and it's really fun, that's how I fell in love with it." 

"We're very blessed to have this department. We're actually one of the only schools that we can source our greens from upstairs and actually bring them down here for our kids to use," Syham added. "Then eventually, we even bring them down to our student café, where they help run it, and they serve food to our teachers."

Class Act: Students at Francis Lewis growing fresh skills in rooftop garden 01:41

The greenhouse effect there is a good one. The school has a rooftop sanctuary for the students, and a garden grows daily. Hydroponics are a focal point, and it generates excitement.

"I get here early in the morning, I have kids waiting to get the basil to start cooking downstairs -- 6:30, 7-o-clock in the morning," said Jeff Schwartz, who runs the program. 

Schwartz said he knows the kids recognize how special it is.

"It's a really amazing resource to have, especially because we use all the plants to fuel all our other programs that we have. It's a very nice thing to have, especially the culture and the stuff we do here. We learn about different types of basils and different types of foods that we use in different cultures, like Thai basil, which is purple," student Isabella Lyn-Shue said.

"It's great to get them slightly out of the academic world. Even though this is totally academic, it's very different than pulling out your notebook, doing the quizzes and all that," said Schwartz. "It's hands-on and it takes time. You have to have patience, which kids don't have now."

"It's very calm place, especially we grow lavender here and stuff like that. It's more the sense of the way the light shifts in the greenhouse, and the sense of kind of heavenly feel. It's a very calming place to be, especially for students that are very stressed out," Lyn-Shue added. 

"It's great, I get to express myself. I love doing this back at home, I grow plants all the time," said student Ryan Chen. 

From the sunflowers, marigolds and basil to the tortoise rescue and recovery tank, it's been a breath of fresh air, fresh vegetables and a fresh take on progress and process. One floor feeds the other, and everyone feeds of their success. 

"It's like, the more you cook for more people, the more you can see the smiles on their faces when they're like, 'Wow, this food is really good,'" Koh said. "Just like you said, it's a reward. That's where the passion comes from."

"I came here because I thought it was a very cool place, it just looked really pretty. I ended up just falling in love with it," said Lyn-Shue. "I've been here almost two years now, and it's like one of the most amazing classes I've had."

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