Success is Brewing for TOP A Students at Career & Technical Center

Success is Brewing for TOP A Students at Career & Technical Center

Twenty-one young professionals with different abilities have been making the Ulster BOCES Career & Technical Center’s (CTC) campus in Port Ewen warmer and sweeter this year, one cup of coffee and one cookie at a time. The students, who are referred to as “young professionals” at Ulster BOCES, are enrolled in the Transitional Occupation Program A (TOP A), a foundational program designed to provide students with special needs hands-on work experiences in jobs, trade areas, and field locations, which can lead to more advanced technical program participation or an effective transition from school to work. 

Under the caring tutelage of Culinary instructor Michael Petty, the TOP A young professionals have been gaining valuable skills by setting up and managing a coffee stand in the building’s former bookstore. Staff and faculty are welcome to fuel up with coffee, tea, and pastries–all prepared daily. Soups are often also on the menu.

This new initiative has not only expanded the students’ professional skills and capacities, but has also expanded TOP A’s reach and created new bridges across the Ulster BOCES community. 

Petty explained his young professionals were asked to prepare 300 cookies for the CTC Parent/Teacher night and an Adult Education event. “We agreed to do the cookies, and then the next thing we knew, teachers from our Adult Education program showed up with goodie bags for the kids containing stress balls and bracelets with positive messages,” he said. The appreciation gifts were a delight to the young professionals, and since then, they’ve been cooking up a storm to provide treats during faculty and staff meetings and events. 

“We have a small kitchen with an oven, mixers, cooktops, etcetera, and each day we try to make one item to put out with coffee, like cookies, muffins, and pastries, as well as a daily soup,” Petty explained. To continually challenge the young professionals, he tasks them with doing something different every day.

Petty added that fun is an important ingredient in this endeavor, pointing to a recent event that was as entertaining as it was educational. “We had a chili cook-off between the morning and afternoon TOP A classes, with Ulster BOCES teachers voting on it during their downtime,” he recalled. “We had 40 staff members vote.” 

Mariah Belloeau, a Grade 11 student from the Wappingers Central School District, said she has learned how to read and follow a recipe and measure ingredients. She has been working in the kitchen as a team leader, helping her classmates to organize their tasks. 

Senior Timothy Durand from the Ellenville Central School District—who helped  prepare the pork and sausage used in the chili competition—showed off his newfound culinary skills at school as well as at home. “I’ve been impressive at cooking meat!” he exclaimed. “After the cook-off, I took the leftovers home to my family, and everyone said it was really good.” Timothy added that he wants to eventually work in a commercial kitchen where he could gain more cooking experience. 

Some Ulster BOCES TOP A young professionals have also been participating in internships at the People’s Place Food Pantry and Thrift Store in Kingston as well as  at Bread Alone’s factory bakery in Lake Katrine, adding another dimension to the experience they are gaining.  

“Getting young people of all abilities into real work experiences creates an equitable model,” explained Career & Technical Center Assistant Principal Stephen Casa. “When our TOP A young professionals are demonstrating their skills at places like Bread Alone and People's Place, they are active members of our school community and demonstrate success.”

Students posing for a photo in the kitchen
Student smiling for a photo


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