What’s cooking?: Poplarville students learn culinary skills

Published 7:00 am Saturday, April 25, 2015

Tenth grader Shelby Ladner prepares quesadillas during class.  Photo by Cassandra Favre

Tenth grader Shelby Ladner prepares quesadillas during class.
Photo by Cassandra Favre

For more than 28 years, there have been delicious aromas permeating the air around Poplarville School District’s Career Development Center.
Upon entering the building, follow the scent to Susan Alexander’s culinary arts class.
Inside, there is a flurry of activity as students work together to create tasty delights.
The class is a part of collaboration with the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation’s program called ProStart, Alexander said.
According to the website, the NRAEF provides service to the public through education, community engagement and promotion of career opportunities. ProStart is a 2-year program during which students are trained academically in the classroom and experientially on the job, the website states.
Alexander, who also teaches family and consumer science, trained in Chicago, Miami and Atlanta, which was made possible by the NRAEF.
“Students that take this class have the opportunity to become nationally certified through ProStart and ServSafe certification is offered at no cost to students,” Alexander said. “We have had a number of students enter the culinary and hospitality management field.”
Culinary students cook and serve a healthy, balanced meal twice a week to small groups, Alexander said. They also provide meals to hungry residents off campus.
“We have worked small banquets and do charity work, which includes Relay for Life and March of Dimes events. Last week, we provided lunch for about 400 people at the Poplarville Woman’s Club luncheon,” Alexander said.
Alexander’s class was the recipient of two grants. The first was a take home meals project, which allowed to students to make healthy vacuum sealed meals. The second grant provided the students with a miniature garden, in order for them to be able to cook with fresh foods, Alexander said.
Students of the career center can partake in a healthy snack in the classroom’s dining center. The food is sold at cost to students in order to break even, Alexander said.
The health department inspects the kitchen and the students practice safe food handling techniques, Alexander said.
“We have a curriculum that teaches them safety and sanitation techniques,” Alexander said. “We also train them in management, culinary history and how to use equipment.”
Sophomore Akasha Rayford said she likes cooking. Watching her mother cook inspired her to take the culinary class.
“I learned how to be sanitary and how to cook omelets and cookies,” Rayford said. “Ms. Alexander taught us how to chop, count and how to work registers. I plan on pursuing a career in culinary arts.”
Junior Jeremy Wilson said he likes to cook a lot and when he gets older he wants to cook for his family.
Sophomore Dustin Krause said he has learned more through the program than he could have experimenting.
“My dad was a chef,” Krause said. “He taught me how to cook and I thought this class would be something I would like.”
The students also compete in the statewide competition, where their dishes are judged, Alexander said.
“My favorite part of teaching the class is witnessing the students’ excitement when they learn new things and also get jobs in the industry,” Alexander said.
Since the school year is winding down, Alexander said the group will not be cooking outside of class, but anyone interested in their culinary services in the fall can contact Alexander at 601-795-1303.
Learn more about the NRAEF at www.nraef.org.

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