Preparing for careers – or not |

Preparing for careers – or not

SUMMIT COUNTY -When Summit High School senior Chad Williamson signed up for the school’s culinary arts program two years ago, he wanted to be a cook. Through the program and the corresponding mentorship, however, he has since changed his mind.

“I decided I just didn’t want to be married to it,” Williamson said.

In addition to culinary skills, Williamson learned the restaurant business requires a significant time commitment. He would rather cook as a hobby, he said.

The hands-on experience available to students through the high school’s career and technical education department is invaluable, said high school culinary arts instructor Terri Vantiger.

In the culinary ProStart program, for example, students like Williamson must work with local culinary professionals – often 20 to 40 hours a week – in addition to their schoolwork.

Williamson cooked with professionals at the Keystone Conference Center. His classmate, senior Matt Vawter-Beaird works at the Keystone Ranch. Other ProStart students have worked at the Uptown Bistro (now the the Boatyard), El Rio, Edgewater Cafe and other restaurants throughout the county.

The goal of the program is to allow students to pursue careers in the hospitality industry – from cooking to lodging to accounting. It also helps students determine whether that’s what they really want to do, before they spend the money to pursue that field in a university or culinary institute.

“It let’s them see “Do I really want to go into this field?'” Vantiger said.

While the culinary program has helped Williamson decide the culinary arts is not for him, it has only reinforced Vawter-Beaird’s career aspirations – even though he worked 73 hours in one week during Christmas vacation last year.

“It’s just a lot of fun,” Vawter-Beaird said. “Life’s too short not to do something you enjoy, and I really enjoy this.”

But Williamson isn’t alone in his change of heart about a career in cooking.

“I used to want to go into culinary, but this class taught me that I don’t really have the heart for it,” said senior Heather Hildreth. “There’s just a lot of pressure to do everything right. I mean, you have that in everything, I guess, but in culinary there’s more pressure (and less time) to make things perfect.”

But Hildreth also is taking video classes under the career and technical program. And while she’s learned that culinary arts isn’t for her, her experience in the video classes makes her confident that is the career direction she will pursue.

“I think, among everything else, it inspires me,” she said. “I just want to do it more and learn everything I can about it.”

Hildreth said she’ll likely start her career in journalism before moving into something more creative.

Determining her career aspirations is only one of the reasons Hildreth enjoys the classes in the high school’s career and technical program. Hildreth said she learns more effectively by doing things hands-on than she does listening to someone explain them. Not only that, she finds hands-on classes more interesting, too.

“We all learn in different ways,” said Shelton Reichardt, director of the high school’s career and technical education department. “What we offer is a way for kids that don’t necessarily feel comfortable in a traditional academic setting to learn differently and open up options that might not otherwise have been there.”

The program’s classes also offer students smaller class size, increased individualized instruction, acquisition of marketable skills, workplace opportunities, individualized career counseling and opportunities for advanced placement in colleges, universities and technical schools after graduation, Reichardt said.

In addition to technical skills, the video and culinary programs, in particular, offer students career skills and networking opportunities.

“The results include our students attaining skills and experience that they couldn’t have attained within the walls of Summit High School,” Reichardt said.

The career and technical program offers other classes, including Cisco networking, business and accounting, construction technology, mechanical drawing and architecture and digital media production and graphic design.

“Our program is for every student,” Reichardt said. “In fact, in our classes, the students range from super-

motivated, college-bound students to what I call our mid-kids (to) our special population students (kids with learning disabilities, english as a second language and at-risk students).”

Lu Snyder can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 203, or

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