Sara Berkowitz: “A Friend to All Those Who Come Through Her Doors”
Marblehead Beacon’s Teacher Appreciation Week effort continues with a profile of Sara Berkowitz, who is Marblehead High School’s culinary arts instructor and the senior class advisor. Nominated by a parent in the community, Berkowitz “goes above and beyond expectations, and the students and parents alike recognize her efforts.” The parent went on to explain that Berkowitz played a key role in her child’s high school experience, encouraging him and his band to perform at the senior prom and creating “the greatest high school memory.”
Berkowitz has spent nearly her entire life in the Northeast, growing up in Salem, Massachusetts and Farmington, Maine. Her family moved to Marblehead in her teens, and she attended Marblehead High School, where she “had a great time, but wasn’t the best student.” Berkowitz notes that one of the most important aspects of her approach to education is being genuine with her students and those around her, which is why, she explains, she feels it is valuable to mention her sometimes less-than-stellar academic performance.
Growing up, Berkowitz’s mother and father worked several jobs, and she notes that “back then especially…you went where the work was.” Her parents met when they were in high school and remained together for around 40 years until her father’s early passing.
Berkowitz is the middle child of three daughters, the eldest of whom she was not aware of until her early teenage years. Berkowitz’s mother became pregnant when she was 19, and the child was adopted into a family that was more financially able to care for her. Berkowitz and her younger sister only learned about their oldest sibling when she reached out to them when Berkowitz was around 14. “We’re so close with her [now],” Berkowitz says, “it’s like a good and bad Hallmark movie.”
Berkowitz is candid about her time as a communications major at Arizona State University, mentioning that she did quite a bit of traveling and generally enjoyed her time there, but “lacked the self-discipline,” so she dropped out and spent a few years working in several different restaurants, where she “found her passion for cooking.” Berkowitz ended up at Legal Seafoods, where she met her husband, whose grandfather had founded the popular chain, though Berkowitz emphasizes that all of the “raises and accolades” she earned came before she and her now-husband began dating. Many people see college as their time for self-growth, she says, but her formative years took place inside of restaurants. “I was not a typical student,” Berkowitz explains, “but it’s ok because in the restaurant business, I found I really thrived.”
At age 30, Berkowtiz was diagnosed with ADHD, news that helped explain her academic patterns throughout the past decades and assisted her in her return to formal education, eventually earning a degree from Salem State University. She started off as a nursing major, but her father’s passing made the required nursing clinicals difficult, so she switched to education to pursue a dream that she’d had since childhood. She began her career at Malden Public Schools as a reading assistant, eventually taking a job at Marblehead High School as the culinary arts instructor, where she remains to this day.
Berkowitz finds joy in teaching as a result of the students’ “excitement about doing something different” than you would see in a traditional classroom. Berkowitz’s courses are not required like core classes in math or English, which means that individuals who choose to enroll are motivated by their interest in the subject. Berkowitz explains that this is a major component of the success she has seen so far in this role. She also serves as the senior class advisor, which she sees as building on her experience as an event sales manager during her time in the culinary industry. She highlights the joy of working with the seniors, saying “I love it. I really do love it.”
During the Covid-19 pandemic, culinary arts was, for obvious reasons, a logistically difficult class to manage, but Berkowitz explains that this was one of her favorite times as a teacher, specifically because she dropped off cooking supplies at her students’ houses and therefore became familiar with their families – an experience most teachers do not have.
It is easy to see how Berkowitz’s non-traditional path to teaching builds on her time spent in the world of restaurants, from the cooking experience she gained in the kitchen to the patience and interpersonal skills she developed in the “front-of-house” to the coordination and management talents necessary to working as an event sales manager. All of these skills are readily apparent in the roles she plays at Marblehead High School. She will be sorely missed when she leaves at the end of this year, with plans to return to the nursing field and complete the degree she began years ago before switching to education.
When she isn’t working, Berkowitz spends time with her two children, Daniel and Jack, and her two dogs, Gus and Chelsea, as well as her husband Scott. She loves traveling and notes that traveling these days means “seeing everything through the lens of my kids,” which offers many brand-new perspectives.
Asked whether she has any regrets, she notes that “there are so many things I could say” but that ultimately “[I am] very, very happy” with life right now. Looking back, “I’ve learned more from what I’ve done wrong than from what I’ve done right.”
Editor's Note: The original version of the article incorrectly indicated that Berkowitz was trained as a chef. She was hired as a front of house restaurant manager, trained in both service and cooking.