Cooking is cool. Just ask the students at North Kansas City High’s ProStart program. The culinary skills program is a far cry from the tedium of Home Economics: Students enroll to get training for jobs in the food industry, to indulge their passion for cooking and, sometimes, simply because they like to eat.
An elective two-year program, ProStart teaches real-world culinary skills at industry-standard levels, propelling students into kitchen jobs straight out of high school. They can also earn college credit: Once they complete the classes, take the appropriate tests and get certification, they may choose to apply the credits they’ve earned at Johnson County Community College or The Art Institutes.
Second-year ProStart student Kai Huffhines is thinking about pursing a culinary career. He took the class, he said, as a “gateway into the food industry.”
For first-year student Lexi Taylor, fun is paramount: “It is something to do, to let off some steam between some of my more difficult classes. For some it is sports; for me it is cooking.”
But working out of old and outdated Home Economics classrooms, with electric stoves and only so many knives to go around, held back the growth of both the program and the students. That’s when North Kansas City ProStart instructor Barbara Skoglund reached out to Buddy Lahl, a member of the Greater Kansas City Restaurant Association’s Education Committee. When Lahl asked what his group could do to support the program, Skoglund presented him with a wish list – everything from small appliances to knives to sheet pans to food products. Lahl promised to reach out to the industry for help.
On Tuesday, Lahl, along with representatives from U.S. Foods, Farmland, C&C Produce and Sysco proudly presented Dr. Todd White, superintendent of North Kansas City Schools, and ProStart students and teachers with thousands of dollars in kitchen utensils, appliances, food safety equipment and food products. Everything on the wish list was there: In all, nearly 400 pounds of food and more than 100 pieces of equipment were donated.
Superintendent White thanked Lahl and the industry donors for their contributions. “We want the ProStart program to match the passion a student has for cooking and we want to give them an advantage by executing this program to meet industry standards,” White said. “With this generous donation, that will continue to be possible.”
Over ProStart’s ten years of existence, Skoglund estimates, 15 North Kansas City students have completed the entire two-year program, passing all of the rigorous tests and logging over 400 hours with a chef, even while trying to finish high school.
“It is a considerable amount of work that the ProStart student must take on to complete the program, in addition to graduating high school,” Skoglund said. “But even if a student doesn’t choose to complete the program or go on to become a chef, odds are at some point they will work in the food industry. It is our job to help prepare them for that. “
Superintendent White echoed that thought.
“These kids are our future, and we should all want them to succeed if we want to eat well,” he said.