501 Life Magazine | Culinary arts program makes advances
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Culinary arts program makes advances

by Lee Hogan

Everyone couldn’t help but notice the new Conway High School being constructed on Prince Street. The sheer size of the building on a busy street was hard to miss.

What may have been lost in the shuffle was the construction of a new culinary arts building, tucked away on the north side of the campus by the softball field.

The culinary arts program moved from its one-room setting in the career center building, to a new, state-of-the-art building with state-of-the-art equipment.

With the move the culinary arts at Conway has also started a new program, called ProStart, to better prepare students who are looking at futures in the food industry.

“It’s been seven years in the making, watching the growth in the industry and in Arkansas,” said culinary arts teacher Jennifer Park.

The move to a new program also stems from the growth at the Arkansas Culinary School in Little Rock, which has gone from 75 students four years ago, to building a new facility to house more than 1,000 students.

“With that growth, we saw the need and moved away from the Family and Consumer Science, Home Ec. idea of what cooking should be, to the industry [idea],” Park said. “When students leave my class, instead of learning how to bake cookies and brownies, they’re learning how to use equipment that is up-and-coming equipment  in the restaurant.”

Park said the students who take ProStart at Conway High, will have the knowledge to start a career in the hospitality or food industry if they desire, or further their education at a culinary school.

“So many kids don’t eat sit-down family dinners. Everything is on the go,” said Park, adding that the skills learned can be used at home as well as to secure a job. 

Conway is the only school in the Central Arkansas region with a culinary arts program. The career center also has many students from surrounding school districts like Greenbrier, Vilonia, Quitman and Guy. Park has students from those districts in her class too.

Park said there are seven periods of Food Production classes a day, and also three ProStart classes, which is a two-hour class.

The new culinary arts program has also caught the attention of some in the United Kingdom. Balfour Beatty, an investment group in the U.K., recently developed and sponsored the “Nourish” program, which teaches students about Type 2 Diabetes. 

 “They saw a growth in Type 2 Diabetes among adolescents and youth, so they created a program to introduce to all of the middle school and high school programs, so they can research and create menus for people with Type 2 Diabetes,” Park said.

Balfour asked Conway to participate in the program to help develop it in the U.S. and create an exchange. Park said Conway High is the first school in the U.S. to be asked to participate.

The “Nourish” program has an extensive competition, and the student winner comes to the U.S. for two weeks. The first student winner came to Arkansas in August, visiting the Governor’s Mansion and introducing the program. The student also gave a presentation at the Arkansas Culinary School and at Conway High School.

Park said students at Conway will take the information they learn about diabetes to teach dietician suggestions to elementary students, as part of a peer-to-peer learning program. It’s the same example the program follows in the U.K.

The new facility is the latest tool in the culinary program’s main goal of affecting students’ lives in a positive way, and giving them a chance to succeed in the future.