The Louisiana Restaurant Association Education Foundation (LRAEF) saw big wins this summer with three of its Louisiana ProStart schools. W.D. & Mary Baker Smith Career Center, Washington Career & Technical Education Center and West St. John High School were among the 38 high schools across the country to receive a $5,000 Grown Grant from the Rachael Ray Foundation.
The National Restaurant Association Education Foundation (NRAEF) works in partnership with the Rachael Ray Foundation, and her non-profit organization Yum-o, to bring much needed funds to ProStart programs. The ProStart Educators can use the funds to strengthen their program, offer new equipment for students, and do anything they need to help grow their curriculum.
The three winning Louisiana ProStart Educators are excited about being chosen. LRAEF Program Manager Mistica Maples-Adams said she’s happy to know Louisiana was well represented in the pool of awarded schools.
Chef Lorenzo J. Edwards is head of the Louisiana ProStart program at West St. John High School. Located in Edgard, La., this 8th through 12th grade school has approximately 20 students enrolled in the Louisiana ProStart program. Chef Edwards is St. John the Baptist Parish School District’s High School Teacher of the Year in 2017 & 2020, and is an NRAEF Certified Secondary Foodservice Educator. One of his goals for the grant is to establish its school-based enterprise, a café on campus, fully run by Louisiana ProStart students.
“Our plans for utilizing the funds are to assist us with updating the culinary lab equipment,” said Chef Edwards. “Also, [we plan] to convert a space into a site for our student-ran café. Our program’s goals are to increase the number of students enrolling in the ProStart courses, as well as the number of students completing their Certificate of Achievements (COA).”
Chef Amanda Wildblood at Washington Career & Technical Education Center (WCTEC) has very similar goals in mind, like to increase student engagement with Louisiana ProStart. Since 2005, WCTEC has been offering the ProStart curriculum, in the small, rural community of Washington, La. Students travel from five different high schools in the parish to take advantage of their technical programs. This past year was Chef Wildblood’s first as a ProStart instructor and first at WCTEC, previously spending over a decade in the casino industry as a chef.
Her plans for the Grow Grant funds are to gain more student interest in ProStart, grow the number of students earning their COA’s, improve kitchen equipment and workflow, and to increase community awareness. She hopes bringing a more “professional feel” to the school’s kitchen will boost the confidence of graduates once they enter a restaurant job.
“It is opportunities like this grant that allows these things to happen,” said Chef Wildblood. “During the 2021-22 school year, our ProStart program graduated one student with his NRAEF Certificate of Achievement. This is something we look forward to increasing in the coming years with the help that this grant provides.”
As Chef Wildblood moves into her second year at WCTEC, she is feeling thankful for the opportunities given to her Louisiana ProStart students through the LRAEF, NRAEF and The Rachael Ray Foundation.
“Without opportunities like the Rachael Ray Grow Grant, our program could not afford to progress so quickly on the updating and changes,” Chef Wildblood said. “I am overwhelmed with excitement moving forward knowing just how blessed our program has been to receive [the grant] which allows for experience and education we never thought possible.”
Story originally posted on July 19, 2022