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Cooking up life skills

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Cooking up life skills

Chi-Hi students with varying abilities take class at CVTC

Image: Cooking up life skills

Odessa Martell, center, and Los Yej Vang, Chippewa Falls High School students in the special education program, helped Chippewa Valley Technical College students prepare lunch for CVTC’s Culinary Management program’s 620 West restaurant, Wednesday. The Chi-Hi students are in Culinary Management’s pilot program, Foodservice Fundamentals, which instructors say is a success.

Hayley Marsh, dressed in a black chef’s coat, listened intently as she received directions from Kevin Brown, a Chippewa Valley Technical College Culinary Management instructor, on how to pack a to-go order properly. Then Marsh, a Chippewa Falls High School student in the special education program, placed the piping hot container of food in a large brown paper bag.

He gave her more instructions, and she carried the food over to a table and made sure it was ready for the customer.

Those types of skills – being able to follow instructions and knowledge of how food should be packed – is crucial in life, said Amanda Turner, transition coordinator for Chippewa Falls Area Unified School District.

The Chippewa Falls High School special education class is the first to participate in CVTC’s Foodservice Fundamentals course, which goes through May 17. The goal of the program is to teach students skills that will help them in the workplace and in life.

Their hard work culminated Wednesday when six Chi-Hi students with varying abilities helped CVTC culinary students prepare, bag and serve the meals to college staff and advisory committee members, as well as the public.

“We’re providing another opportunity to learn skills,” Turner said while students were rushing to serve customers. “I think how those skills are utilized will be different for every student. Some will go into an employment opportunity, some will use it in general, and some may be more interested in some sort of post-secondary program.

“But I think it gives these students the opportunity to see what their next step is. Many of them have never even been on campus before.”

Laura Bushendorf, career and technical education coordinator for the Chippewa Falls school district, was emotional while talking about the program – the first of its kind for CVTC and the school district.

“We took a gamble,” she said of the pilot program. “We didn’t know how this was going to turn out.”

It turned out like a perfectly-cooked steak.

“Chef (Melissa) Tok has been amazing to work with because of her flexibility as well as her desire to learn and get to know our students. It’s been a great partnership,” Bushendorf said.

Tok, chef and CVTC culinary instructional assistant, said it’s fulfilling to see the CVTC culinary students teaching the Chi-Hi students. And whether they know it or not, our college students are learning from the Chi-Hi students too.

“By teaching others, our CVTC students are seeing their work from such a different perspective,” Tok said. “Our students are doing things every day that we teach them, but it’s difficult to teach them to lead and have patience. Having the Chi-Hi students here is teaching our students something more.”

And as all the students are learning different skills, Tok said there’s just one more thing she hopes to achieve: taking a bit of the load off area teachers and shoring up the workforce.

“We live in this world with labor shortages and educators as a whole challenged beyond measure,” she said. “I’m happy we can take even a small load off educators in the high schools. We want to do that with all the schools in one way or another. It challenges us to think outside of the box.”

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