Catering is a “Class Act” for Ulster BOCES Young Professionals

Catering is a “Class Act” for Ulster BOCES Young Professionals

Ulster BOCES Transitional Occupation Program (TOP A) students–or “young professionals” as they are referred to around the school building–have been catering to the Ulster BOCES school community and beyond, using skills they have developed through practice, professional learning, implementation, and assessment. 

The Ulster BOCES TOP A program is geared towards young people in Grades 9-12 who may struggle with academics and motivation, but who possess the ability to comply with directions effectively enough to build pro-technical and employability skills. The program is designed to maximize the time the young professionals spend performing hands-on work in jobs, trade areas, and field locations, leading to more advanced technical program participation or an effective transition from school to work. 

Twenty-two TOP A young professionals have spent this past school year learning how to read recipes, measure, stir, chop, mix, and even wash dishes to their own levels of mastery. They have then utilized these skills outside of their classrooms, in school hallways and beyond. 

The class has been catering school events, such as the Superintendent's Conference Day held at iPark 87, where they served gluten-free and vegan breakfast cakes they had baked from scratch. They also showed off an artfully displayed charcuterie board they had created, featuring such treats as an olive tapenade dip and vegetables they had painstakingly pickled. They have also provided platters of freshly made cookies and pastries for Open Houses, special Board meetings, and staff meetings. The week before the winter break, the TOP A young chefs-in-training baked more than 600 cookies. 

In addition, the class’s learning kitchen transforms daily into a school wide eatery known as the Big ‘B’ Cafe. The cafe serves infused “spa” water, coffee, tea, and fresh pastries to students and staff, free of charge. The young professionals also don their chef coats daily to recycle food scraps from the Ulster BOCES Culinary Arts program into delicious and healthy dishes offered to staff members during lunchtime. If, on any given day the Culinary Arts young professionals are honing their knife skills by cutting chicken, the following day TOP A young professionals will be making a chicken-based dish, reducing food waste to practically nil. 

TOP A instructor Michael Petty explained that the class began the school year by making one recipe daily, learning the basics along the way. Now, he says, the class is making seven recipes each day, assembling necessary ingredients, putting them all together, serving the dish, and cleaning up afterwards.

Petty explained that although not every TOP A young professional will become a chef, every milestone matters. “Every student is treated with empathy and given the opportunity to reach their true potential–whatever that might be for that child,” he said. “The expectations are the same for all.” 

Petty noted that some of the young professionals with autism have made some small but impressive strides as they have challenged their sensory issues long enough to come into the learning kitchen to stir a pot or two–notwithstanding the kitchen’s smells, sounds, and temperatures–before returning to their classroom. These TOP A young professionals have also begun washing the table linens and doing laundry for the Ulster BOCES Nursing program; they wash, dry, fold, and steam uniforms. “We teach to each child’s strength,” he said. 

TOP A young professional Gabriella Nelon of the Kingston City School District said that although she greatly enjoys washing dishes during her school day, she still dislikes washing dishes at home. 

A great chef will tell you that creating delicious food sometimes requires a bit of experimentation. In that spirit, the TOP A class visited the private goat herd of Animal Science teacher Lisa Baker in early May to conduct an experiment to determine whether the animals would prefer savory or sweet baked treats. TOP A young professional Sammi Maitta of the New Paltz Central School District confirmed that the goats didn’t seem to have a preference–they just liked the Top A class’s cooking, period! The class was also recently treated to an afternoon at Mohonk Mountain House for a kitchen tour as well as a scrumptious three-course meal. 

Mira Remondo of the Onteora Central School District, who said that cooking for other people makes her happy, said that the TOP A program has helped her to refine her culinary talents. While at first she only used a plastic knife in the kitchen, she now uses a real knife to chop vegetables and other ingredients. She has also become adept at measuring flour, cleaning countertops, and using kitchen equipment. 

“We are getting results,” Petty noted of the class’s learning progress. “We appreciate what they do here.” For more information on the TOP A program, visit https://www.ulsterboces.org/students-of-all-ages/career-education-for-high-school/targeted-programs

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