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ThunderRidge teacher named Colorado ProStart Educator of Excellence

Katy Waskey with ProStart students

HIGHLANDS RANCH – The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation has announced that ThunderRidge High School ProStart teacher Katy Waskey is its 2014 Colorado Educator of Excellence. 

The award, which is only given to one teacher from each participating state, is a big honor for Waskey, who has already led her students to a state ProStart title. She, however, says it really celebrates the entire team that has made ThunderRidge a national example in ProStart.

“It is awesome because it takes all of these great relationships and brings to light this huge program, which allows students to graduate with some real life experience and to start their careers,” Waskey said. “While I get to deliver this curriculum, and get to watch these students and hold these students to high expectations, this program doesn’t go anywhere without the industry support that we have.”

On a regular basis, students in ThunderRidge’s ProStart program, who come from different schools within and outside of the District, get to work with DCSD’s executive chef, Jason Morse, as well as Bob Sabina and Eric Lederfine, area directors from a local Chili’s restaurant.

In fact, students recently had the opportunity to go on field trips to the restaurant, where they had a chance to tour the kitchen, learn about the chain’s marketing efforts and even participate in interviews with the directors.

It is these first-hand lessons from industry experts, as well as in-depth lessons on culinary and business skills that prepare the teens for jobs in restaurants, hotels and beyond after they graduate.

Waskey says most of her students hope to own their own restaurants one day. 

“With a lofty goal like that, we have to buckle down then. We have to get this good foundation, so you know what that looks like.”

While nationally about nine out of 10 restaurants fail, she believes that the understanding and 21st Century Skills ProStart students receive will enable them to buck that trend. 

“So much of that is because these people who have this dream to get into culinary arts don’t have the skills to move forward with that,” Waskey said. “I look at my ProStart students, and with the outside support that we have coming from the industry, they are able to find success, if they want to. They leave with such business knowledge and culinary skills; it really provides an awesome foundation for their careers—if that is what they decide to pursue.”

“The very first day I say, ‘this isn’t just a class that you’re engaging in,’” Waskey added. “This is a program. Our relationship is more of a manager-employee relationship. I hold you to these attendance expectations. I hold you to these work expectations.”

Students quickly learn that ProStart isn’t just an advanced cooking class, and being a great chef or restaurant owner is not as easy as it might seem on television.

“So many kids say, ‘I want to be a chef,’ because they see what is on Food Network. Well, that’s not what it is. In fact, you don’t get to do all those creative, awesome things you see on Food Network, until you’re really established,” Waskey explained.

“We hold these students to very high expectations. What is crazy is they rise to it,” Waskey said. “This is high school. [This program is] fun, but at the same time this is how you get places. You are organized, you’re dedicated, you strive for excellence.”

ProStart competition

That is exactly what Waskey’s students have done. Last year, after only three years in ProStart, ThunderRidge’s program claimed first place overall during the 14th Annual ProStart Invitational Sysco Hospitality Cup Competition.

Now the program is becoming a national example. Chili’s is working to replicate the relationship built between the local restaurant and ThunderRidge across the country.

“Three or four weeks ago, [Chili’s] flew out their trainer executive, who videotaped Bob and Eric as they interacted with ProStart, for use as training material for other area directors,” Waskey said. “Our relationship is the model they want to pursue across the nation.”

Much like ThunderRidge’s ProStart program, the relationship began with a simple idea about preparing kids for life after high school, and has since grown into a national model.

About the ProStart Educator Excellence Awards

The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation’s (NRAEF) ProStart Educator Excellence Awards recognize exceptional educators who utilize the ProStart program in their classrooms. Each participating state nominates its leading educator who has demonstrated a strong commitment to his or her students and to the ProStart program. The awardees will be flown to Chicago to receive their award from the NRAEF in May.

ProStart students team up with Chef Jason to launch new burrito line

Chef Doug's Burrito Co

As you may know, Nutrition Services is launching a new line of fresh, handcrafted, made-to-order burritos. The ProStart students have been an important part of the launch.

DCSD Executive Chef Jason Morse met with the teens several times, asking for them to taste test the burritos and to help with the naming and marketing.

“It is a really cool example of how we get these students involved in something much bigger than classroom activities. They helped create a business,” ThunderRidge ProStart teacher Katy Waskey said.

Chef Doug’s Burrito Co. is up and running at ThunderRidge High School and will soon debut and Rock Canyon.

February 11, 2014 | By SCPaulsen | Category: ThunderRidge High School, Communications, Choice Programming, Nutrition Services

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