School to Career program exposes students to jobs

Palisade High School student Dominic Miller assists Chef Jon St. Peter with a cheese sauce Tuesday morning at Western Colorado Community College.

Jon St. Peter, culinary arts chef instructor at Western Colorado Community College, finished a pot of steaming shrimp macaroni and cheese with fresh tarragon and a dollop of butter.

“The last thing in the pot is the first thing on the lips,” he said.

In less than an hour and with the assistance of several students, St. Peter whipped up the dish before the hungry eyes of many high-schoolers who were attending the School to Career program offered by School District 51.

The program pairs the interests of students with real life professionals. “We want to expose them to what the industry is all about, so they can see if that really is the path they want to follow,” said Terri Smatla, School to Career coordinator.

The students in attendance Tuesday morning were from all area high schools and had previously expressed an interest in culinary arts.

St. Peter, who volunteered his time to speak to the teens, told the students that he taught technique-based learning at the culinary arts school. He told them that he had an interest in being a chef since a young age, and he perfected the fried egg in his early teens. Then, he began pursuing his goal at a vocational high school, later attending the culinary arts school at Colorado Mountain College.

He explained the ups and downs of the restaurant industry as well. “In reality, it doesn’t matter how good your food is — you must know how to manage a restaurant for profitability,” he explained, while telling the students that the things they were learning in high school now were essential to becoming a chef.

People skills, business management, and public speaking were all requirements for someone in the culinary arts, he said.

St. Peter added: “Life is too short to do something that you don’t like. There’s so much pressure on kids from media and their peers, but they really need to find something that they enjoy and can become passionate about.”

Exposing high school students and frankly discussing real life scenarios that happen within a particular field is essential for kids undecided about their career goals, Smatla said.

The School to Career program will also be offering students a chance to visit and learn about jobs in the legal and justice department, natural resources, and health industries. Internships and other learning opportunities are available to students in the program.


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