While most high school teachers are winding down their classrooms and gearing up for summer, ProStart educators are hard at work preparing next year’s recipes, food orders and budgets for their culinary students. Every June the NYS Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NYSRAEF) organizes a ProStart Teacher Conference which allows all New York State educators who teach ProStart in their high school classrooms to visit a post-secondary school, learn valuable skills, hear the latest information on curriculum changes and offer feedback on how the program is working. The NYSRAEF and these dedicated educators are what make the ProStart program stronger and allows the students to obtain an educational edge whether they go into the workforce or attend culinary school after they graduate.
Elizabeth Soscia, NYSRAEF Education Coordinator, organized this year’s conference which was held on June 16 & 17, 2014 and was graciously hosted by Monroe College on the New Rochelle, NY campus. Carol Genese, the Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs at Monroe College, welcomed all the educators during the delicious breakfast prepared by Monroe culinary students (some of which were ProStart graduates themselves and excited to come out and see their teachers again!). According to Genese, the college, throughout its 83-year history, prides itself on three things; excellence of education, being a teaching facility and not a research facility, and making the student the center of everything they do.
Monroe College has been a huge supporter of the New York State ProStart program. The Dean for the School of Hospitality Management at Monroe College, Chef Frank Costantino, has been a judge for the NYS ProStart Invitational, the state’s premier high school competition focused on restaurant management and culinary arts, for the past decade. The college has also offered scholarships to ProStart students interested in attending Monroe College. “I can see when students come to Monroe College which one’s are ProStart students because they are already ahead of the game” says Chef Costantino. The Chef also took time away from his kitchen to perform a skills presentation to the educators that will be invaluable when competition time comes around again. He explained how the students can save time, increase skill level and maintain a high level of sanitation practices (all of which are judged during this competition) by preparing the right foods in the right way.
After a delicious lunch, the educators went back to work discussing in groups their biggest wins, challenges, and best practices that help make their ProStart program a success. You could hear “76%...80%... 100% of our graduating students in the program are going to college” or “This year we had the highest grades on the ProStart exam in five years” from these proud educators, most of which were able to receive thousands of dollars in scholarships from the various colleges and contests that the students had won throughout the year.
The efforts of the NYSRAEF as well as the ProStart educators go well beyond the classroom. Funds are always low, so the educators needed to look outside the kitchen to find out ways to raise funds for their program. Presentations by Peter Desmond, ProStart educator at Questar III- Columbia-Greene Education Center, and James Kuras, ProStart educator at Carrier Educational Center, were focused on reaching out to local growers and organizations to help get supplies and funds necessary to keep their programs running. They also prepared food that could be packaged and sold at events. In an effort to build strong local support the NYSRAEF will be connecting these schools to members of the Association via local Chapter Board school visits in the upcoming year to increase local exposure of the ProStart Program.