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Whats cooking in school? Culinary arts academy
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Something is cooking in the Manteca Unified School District and it’s about to be served in the public venue.

That’s the Culinary Arts program offered through the Manteca Unified Vocational Academy, the district’s first ever vocational charter school. It is being launched for the first time at the beginning of the school year 2012-13 on Aug. 9.

The class is initially being offered with a maximum enrollment of 32 students as approved by the district’s Board of Trustees before the end of last school year.

“We have 22 students enrolled right now,” said Manteca Adult School Principal Diane Medeiros who has been tapped to be in charge of the charter school in addition to her other responsibilities.

But she is hopeful they will be able to meet the class-size goal as the enrollment process continues in the next few days before school opens. Just like any new business, it takes a while before more people get to know about it and get a sense of what is going on, she said.

Under the budget adopted for the charter school’s initial course offering, the class has to have an enrollment of 28 students “for us to break even,” MUSD Superintendent Jason Messer said.

The students who have already signed up are from the different high school campuses in Manteca Unified; however, there is currently one interested student from Stockton who is in the process of filling out the required enrollment forms. Since the Academy is a charter school, it is open to any high school student in San Joaquin County who meets all the program requirements, said Messer.

Medeiros said enrollment will continue even up to the second week of school. But whether the maximum class size is reached by that time, the district is going to move ahead with the maiden launch of the charter school, she said.

And while the kitchen and related facilities for the school are still in the process of being completed and probably won’t be ready until the middle of November, “we have the program and it’s ready to go,” Medeiros said.

In the meantime, while work on the facilities is ongoing, the culinary arts students will be having their classroom and kitchen facilities on the third floor of the district office building at 2271 West Louise Avenue, corner of Airport Way.

Culinary Arts Academy offers free education, other benefits for students

What makes the academy unique is that while the students will be learning about the culinary arts, they also will be gaining actual work experience in this field at the same time. That means, by graduation time, not only will they receive their high school diploma but they will also earn a certificate that will serve as their ticket to landing a job in today’s competitive work force.

“Our students will be working, in addition to their instructional class work right from day one,” Medeiros explained.

They will be learning about the processing of food and everything that’s related to the food industry, she said. In fact, one of the first classes that the students will be taking will be ServSafe which is a food-safety training and certificate program. This is a state certification “that anybody in the food industry needs to have.” Typically, an adult person will have to pay for it to take the test, so that’s money that parents don’t have to come up with when their children don’t have any interest in going to college later, Medeiros said.

Being able to walk up to a potential employer with that ServSafe certificate will help increase the students’ chances of landing a job.

“So there’s a lot of benefits built into the program,” she added.

The goal is for the students to “step out of the program and step into the work world smoothly. It’s a very comprehensive program and we’re very excited to offer our students this opportunity,” Medeiros said.

As an added bonus on top of all these benefits, the students will have an opportunity to get into university classes online and get college credits which will be advantageous to them should they decide to further their education on to the next level.

“That’s all free, too,” said Messer of the college costs involved, just like their enrollment in the culinary arts program.

The charter school is designed to be self-supporting. Just like any public school, it derives its funding from state ADA (average daily attendance) money.

The online college courses, however, will not be available during the first quarter but “maybe” the second quarter, Messer said. They will be offered through the Grand Canyon University in Arizona, which is the same university that the San Joaquin County Office of Education uses. The district entered into an agreement with Grand Canyon University which charges the district for the college courses. Those costs, Messer pointed out, are even less than what Delta College charges. The students will have access to the online courses 24/7. The university also will have professors that the students can access online.

A café at the school district office run by students

And that’s not all.

“The other really cool thing about this (culinary arts) program is that we’re preparing the building for the café,” said Medeiros.

It will be located in a section of the old building where the district offices and board room used to be, and is being remodeled for this purpose. Part of the building is currently leased to a credit union.

The vocational students will be the ones who will design the core of the café, as well as run the business. They will also be the ones preparing the menu and the food.

“They will be operating a business just like any business in the community,” Medeiros said.

The remodeling of the old district offices is being done by the Nutritional Services. This is the department’s part of the partnership with the school district in offering the culinary arts program.

“The Board was clear that the charter has to pay for itself. So for our budget, we’re only spending money brought in by the ADA (average daily attendance). We’re not using general fund money to do this. That’s why we’ve partnered with Nutrition Services,” Medeiros said.

There are actually a “lot of pieces” that went into the development of a vocational charter school in the district, she explained.

First, there was Superintendent Messer who “has this vision of providing students with alternative ways of learning,” said Medeiros. Then there were individuals like Director of Nutritional Services Patty Page and the director of secondary education who saw and understood that vision.

The student pioneers in the trailblazing Manteca Unified Vocational Academy, in addition to using the third floor of the school district offices for their classroom and kitchen, will be utilizing the kitchens at East Union, Sierra, and Lathrop high schools for their additional kitchen training.

“Then when our facilities are ready in the middle of November, we’ll be using our own kitchen and begin developing the café,” Medeiros said.

The Board of Trustees initially planned to have the charter school offer two other vocational programs but later locked on to just the culinary arts for starters due to budget constraints.