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National Restaurant Association - ProStart teacher urges restaurant leaders to become mentors

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ProStart teacher urges restaurant leaders to become mentors

One of Sheri Tucker's first responsibilities at La Quinta (Calif.) High School was to write a thank-you letter toCarlton Curtis.

The culinary arts instructor was thanking Curtis, vice president of industry affairs,  foodservice and hospitality, Coca-Cola North America, for donating a commercial freezer to her ProStart students. Six years later, she shared the story with him at the National Restaurant Association/National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation board meeting, where Curtis assumed NRAEF chairmanship.

"Each time I open the freezer that you bought for us, I say thank you again," Tucker said last week. Donations of commercial kitchen equipment, supplies and chefs uniforms enable many high schools to offer ProStart and allow students to compete for scholarships in culinary competitions. ProStart is the NRAEF's two-year high school culinary arts and hospitality management program. About 90,000 students participate nationwide.

At La Quinta, students take two years of introductory culinary courses before they're eligible for ProStart. The early classes familiarize students with basic baking and cooking skills, such as the difference between whisks and pastry blenders and the difference between utensils for cooking and eating.

Tucker teaches more than cooking skills and hospitality management in her classes. She puts history, math, geography and language arts in context to real-world restaurant situations.

As students move up to ProStart classes, they act as restaurant managers and learn to cost ingredients, budget and plan. They cater special events, such as the school's winter dance. Such activities give the students a sense of ownership and what goes on behind the scenes, Tucker says.

 La Quinta's ProStart students also work with restaurant owners and operators, who visit the classroom and provide jobs. Tucker urged the NRA/NRAEF board memberst to act as mentors in their communities.

"This is where the our students really get to see how the rubber meets the road," she says. "They truly see what it feels like to be in business, what it's like day to day. It's not the same as analysis in the classroom. Their growth is a direct result of being able to work one on one with chefs. It's truly a blessing for me as an educator that chefs step up like that."

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