Editor’s Note: This is the first of a four-part series on the state of career and technical education in Keller schools.
Fossil Ridge teacher Jackie Godek is excited that three of her advanced culinary students who just graduated last month are headed to culinary schools in the fall, a new record for her program.
Savannah Rogers and Samantha Johnson will go to Johnson and Wales University in Denver. Both girls plan to follow a four-year program to obtain a bachelor’s degree in culinary arts and food service management. Ady Martinez will spend next year in Austin at the Auguste Escoffier Academy of Culinary Arts to complete programs in culinary and pastry arts.
The three girls have learned professional cooking techniques in a classroom equipped to teach home economics. A half a dozen stations include appliances found in modest residential kitchens.
To train for various cooking contests, they’ve had to simulate what they would do in a restaurant kitchen. Sometimes Godek takes them down to the cafeteria kitchen to look at industrial equipment.
“They’re doing all this training in a Betty Crocker kitchen, and they compete against kids who are used to working in a commercial kitchen,” Godek said.
Godek’s students have had some success despite the challenges.
Rogers placed first in the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) Texas contest for her project on developing a farm-to-table restaurant that serves gluten-free fare. Rogers was recently diagnosed with celiac disease, a condition where the consumption of gluten found in wheat and barley can severely damage the small intestines and cause malnutrition.
“There’s a huge demographic for gluten-free food that affordable,” Rogers said.
For the contest, she had to conduct extensive research, develop a restaurant idea, design a website, create sample menus and give a presentation to judges. This week, Rogers will attend the FCCLA National Leadership Conference in San Antonio where she will again showcase her restaurant concept.
Rogers, Johnson and Martinez were part of a four-person team to go to Waco in March to compete in the Texas ProStart Invitational sponsored by the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation. It was Ridge’s first time to participate in ProStart, a contest where students must create a predetermined appetizer, entree and dessert in 60 minutes. They placed eighth out of 25 teams. Neighboring Byron Nelson High School won the contest. Nelson has a state-of-the-art culinary facility.
KISD students at a disadvantage
Casey Stone, the KISD director of career and technical (CTE) education, said that the lack of facilities puts Keller students at a disadvantage in competition and in vying for practical experience.
“The biggest impact is that our kids are just not given the opportunities as others who have the actual devices for industrial certification,” Stone said. “If you’re looking at two applicants for an internship and one has commercial cooking experience and the other one residential experience, you know who’s likely to get the position.”
The key component in a potential November bond package is a career and technical education center. The facility would provide a commercial class kitchen, a large lab area for training and a bistro for students to serve food to the community. Students from all four high schools could come and practice advanced culinary skills and get the experience of running a business.
District officials are looking at turning South Keller Intermediate School into a career training facility with a renovation and expansion. They estimate the cost at $32 million to $36 million.
The center would house the programs that require expensive equipment and specialized instruction like culinary arts. KISD students taking automotive technology, construction and cosmetology now go to the Birdville Center of Technology and Advanced Learning, at a per pupil cost to Keller. Officials believe that bringing those programs in house would attract more Keller students.
Other courses that would be likely candidates for a new facility would be health and veterinary science labs, cosmetology, automotive technology, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) labs and audio visual technology.
Several factors are driving the demand for CTE courses. Unlike the old school definition of vocational training as an alternative to college, students who take CTE courses are more likely to attend a four-year university, Stone said. Many programs are still routes to good careers without a college degree but others—like engineering, accounting, nursing and architecture—require higher education.
Godek said that CTE classes are a great way for students to decide whether they want to pursue a career.
“It’s important for students to try out different careers in a safe environment,” Godek said. “In these classes sometimes they find out that a job is not what they thought it was, but what a beautiful thing, to explore careers.”
House Bill 5, passed last year by the Texas Legislature, requires eighth-graders to declare an endorsement—similar to a major—that they plan to follow throughout high school. Students may earn endorsements in STEM, business and industry, public services, arts and humanities or multiple disciplines. The goal of the law is to give students many paths to graduation instead of the one-size-fits-all approach of the old diploma plan.
The number of KISD students taking CTE classes was on the rise before House Bill 5 went into effect with this fall’s incoming ninth-graders. In 2013-14, about 56 percent of all KISD high school students were taking at least one career training course. Stone expected that number to be 60 to 70 percent for the next school year and 70 to 80 percent the following year.
Stone said that Culinary Arts is one of the most popular tracks in recent years. Even for students who don’t become food service professionals, the training can help them get jobs that will pay their college costs or simply gain practical experience in cooking and working with others.
For students like Rogers, the Culinary Arts program shows them how to achieve their future dreams.
“I want to be the executive chef of my very own restaurant,” Rogers said. “I’ve just always had a love for it. When I was little I read recipe books instead of picture books and watched food network instead of cartoons.
“I love surprising people and bringing people together with food. It’s a whole new world most people haven’t tapped into.”