For the fourth year in a row, Milford School District has partnered with First State Community Action Agency in order to provide students in the Academic Enhancement class at Milford High School (MHS) with vocational foodservice and culinary skills training that will enable them to pursue employment in the foodservice industry. The “Now We’re Cooking” program offered by First State Community Action Agency has MHS students exploring a wide range of opportunities in various segments of the foodservice industry.
The program supports eight students, participating in the three hour class, twice per week for a total of 28 weeks. Under professional Chef Gary Papp’s instruction, students learn to prepare food safely, use professional kitchen appliances and improve their knife skills. Students have the opportunity to expand their knowledge regarding the history of certain foods, develop a better understanding of the costs incurred in order to prepare certain dishes and the nutritional values of each dish. The food they prepare exposes students to a wide range of cuisines from around the world and expands their knowledge of various cultures.
Leon Jackson, tenth grader at Milford High School, is now in his second year of the program. “It’s fun and challenging. I learn something new all the time,” said Jackson. Through the Now We’re Cooking Program, Leon has discovered his love of baking and has made brownies, cookies and cakes for his fellow classmates and teachers. “I love [the program] and I like seeing Miss Jess [,my teacher,] smile a lot.
Eack week, teachers Jennifer Danjolell and Kevin Joseph take students for two days of 3 hour classes at the professional kitchen to work on not only kitchen rules and techniques but social skills as well. “The program is designed to teach them how to work in a restaurant,” stated Danjolell. “It teaches independent living for the most part as they make their dishes mainly from scratch.”
“We are also able to use the program to teach them social skills such as working in a team, following instructions and delegating responsibility,” said Joseph.
At the conclusion of the 28 weeks, students are assessed by knowledge and performance. They are expected to demonstrate skills essential to job readiness and retention. The skills include the ability to work as part of a team or independently, punctualy, ability to follow multiple instructions, manual dexterity and the ability to focus on and complete a task, critical thinking and problem solving.
The ultimate goal of the program is to successfully transition students from the cooking class into a job internship at a local restaurant. Grotto Pizza in Milford has been overwhelmingly supportive of the First State program and Milford High School students. Over the last two years, five different students have had the opportunity to participate in internships at Grotto Pizza in food preparation, hosting, bussing and dishwashing. Grotto Pizza has also offered employment to students from Milford High School who successfully completed the program.
Wayne Foster Jr., a twelfth grader at Milford High School, has been involved with the program for three years and for the last year has worked with Grotto Pizza, as he begins to take on more responsibility in the kitchen. During the program Wayne learned how to “cook on the grill, cut raw meat, vegetables and fruits.”
“I like using the kitchen knife, when I do I feel like I am in a different world,” said Foster. “When I am at work I really feel like I am being myself.” Now on the pizza line creating sauces and cutting and portioning toppings, he will soon take on the added responsibility of working in the front of the store busing tables.