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ProStart offers opportunities at Fairmont High School

Sophomores Brandi Moeckel, left, and Karalyn Closs mix food coloring into buttercream frosting during the advanced food prep class at Fairmont High School. Next school year, the school will offer ProStart classes.

Next school year, Fairmont High School will offer its students the opportunity to join ProStart, a nationwide program that develops the best and brightest talent into tomorrow’s restaurant and food service leaders.

High School FACS instructor Jeanne Garbers-Walden will teach the classes.

The curriculum in the ProStart classes is all aligned with the National Restaurant Association standards and ServSafe certification. Garbers explained that ProStart is different from what the school currently offers — an intro and advanced food prep class — because it’s a more detailed curriculum that would align with restaurant standards.

“If a student went to culinary school, they would learn all of the same standards, so it’s very transferable in terms of walking into a restaurant and saying you’ve taken ProStart or have gone to culinary school. It’s nice because it’s recognized in this state as well as all over the country,” Garbers said.

ProStart includes not just restaurant or baking skills but also topics on restaurant management, food safety and sanitation, food service production and menu planning, making it beneficial overall.

Many schools in Minnesota already have a ProStart program, including Blue Earth Area and Austin.

Fairmont Superintendent Joe Brown said the local district has wanted to get the program started for a while. Brown was first contacted by Jason Subbert, who manages a number of hotels in Fairmont, several years ago about bringing ProStart to the high school. With the addition of Garber’s position this year, as well as her passion to get it started, the program became a possibility in Fairmont.

Three ProStart classes will be offered, including baking and pastry, advanced culinary and restaurant experience. The classes involve different forms of instructional delivery, such as classroom, kitchen and online setting.

Next school year, Garbers will teach baking and pastry, which she said many are interested in, and one section of advanced culinary.

The restaurant experience class will not be offered next year because prerequisites are needed before students can take it, but for the following school year Garbers hopes to offer it and, by that time, be partnered up with local restaurants so students can see what it looks like and get some real-life experience.

“We have a home style kitchen (at the school),” Garbers explained. “We want to see what the restaurant style, commercial kitchen looks like.”

She said that as the program grows, she hopes students in the more advanced classes can get out and put on some community events.

“They could be present at an Opera House event or provide desserts for an event in town. A lot of other ProStart programs have students out in the community and that’s how they get their practice,” Garbers explained.

While the baking and culinary class will have students making mainly sweets, the advanced culinary class will have both savory and sweets so students will make some appetizers, side dishes and main dishes.

“This year, I’ve tried out a few of the ProStart recipes with my advanced food prep kids so that I get a better feel for it. We’ve made homemade pasta, sauces from scratch and chicken cordon bleu,” Garbers said.

There’s also a competition piece to ProStart and competitions are held regionally and nationally. Garbers said there are a lot of scholarships available to students, especially if they are really looking to go to a specific program or location. This year, she took several students to a competition in Marshall so they could all get a better idea of how it’s ran.

“I’ve changed my classes to block next year so they’ll be in here for two class periods instead of just one,” Garbers explained.

Just this year, the Fairmont School Board approved giving teachers the option to teach a dual period class, citing that it would be especially helpful to teachers in the vocational wing.

“If you think about baking and pastry, to make a cake or bread in 35 minutes is insane. Having an hour and a half time in the lab with hands-on learning will be so much better for the kids,” Garbers said.

She also would like to offer a summer class in the future.

“If a student is signed up for a music class and a foreign language, then they won’t have room to fit my class in their schedule and there’s a high number of kids that want to do that,” she said.

Garbers is passionate about starting this program and recognizes it could be beneficial for many students.

“It will be great thing once it grows. I hope to see more growth because if a student doesn’t necessarily want to go to a four-year school, this could be a good path for them because they get experience, certification and hours in a restaurant which is a great resume builder,” she said.

The Fairmont School Board, along with Superintendent Joe Brown, sees the benefit too.

“The whole hospitality industry is hurting for people right now,” Brown said. “There’s so many food shows on TV and a lot of kids are very interested in food production and of course there’s a lot of interest in nutrition so the combination of nutrition and food production makes it such a good program.”

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