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National Restaurant Association - State grant gives boost to restaurant careers

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State grant gives boost to restaurant careers

ProStart, the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation’s program to train high school students for careers in foodservice and culinary arts, received a boost through $500,000 from the state of Delaware as part of a new, statewide career-training initiative.

ProStart is the only culinary and hospitality training program included in Delaware’s new Pathways to Prosperity initiative, a collaboration of employers, universities and school districts that aims to give students skills to make them employable in the changing economy. Delaware is the 11th state to join Pathways to Prosperity.

The funding will help schools that host ProStart programs offset the cost of training and program materials. Students who participate in ProStart and fulfill its requirements earn college credits in addition to a certificate of achievement.

Advocacy by the Delaware Restaurant Association was key to ProStart’s inclusion in the initiative.

“I wanted the state to look at ProStart and recognize it as an approved level of coursework,” said DRA CEO Carrie Leishman. “We were looking for an official nod of recognition.”

ProStart also caught the eye of Gov. Jack Markell (D), who was looking for ways schools could provide students with real-world skills that met the needs of the state’s employers.

“All states are looking at workforce development,” Leishman said. “Gov. Markell was looking outside the box at education initiatives.”

When the state decided to join Pathways to Prosperity, ProStart was a natural fit. A labor market analysis showed a growing demand for restaurant, foodservice and hospitality employees in the state that is expected to continue for the next several years, said Luke Rhine, director of career and technical education for the Delaware Department of Education.

“We were looking for key industry sectors where the state could make a strategic investment,” Rhine said. When looking at which programs to include in the initiative, state officials considered whether they aligned with economic trends in the state and had the capacity to get off the ground quickly, Rhine said. ProStart met both criteria, he said.

“ProStart provides a great infrastructure, with a defined curriculum, established learning model and assessments,” Rhine said. “The DRA has been fantastic. They’re helping us build a model of learning that is consistent with the program.” Programs in computer science and information technology will also receive part of the $500,000.

ProStart is currently in 13 high schools in Delaware, with 1,700 students participating. And interest is growing, Leishman said. “We’re igniting a lot of passion,” she said. “There are organizations and people in Delaware who are looking at us as the model answer to challenges in public education in the state.”

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