Local restaurants offer first-of-a-kind internship opportunities to district students

BY ASMAA ELKEURTI | MAY 11, 2012 6:30 AM

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Tate High students could soon have the option to gain culinary and other experiences as part of a new internship program pairing students with local businesses.

Iowa City School District officials are planning a vocational career class and developing partnerships with local restaurants and businesses as part of the ProStart program, a national course that instructs high-school students in skills as chefs, managers, and restaurant owners.

Joan Vandenberg, the district's youth and family-development coordinator, said the internship would be the first of its kind in the Iowa City schools.

"I think this is a brilliant idea. It brings real world experiences to the classroom," Vandenberg said. "I wish we had more like it in the district."

Owners of Basta, Atlas, and Jimmy Jack's Rib Shack restaurants have met with high-school officials to outline plans for the internship.

Jeffrey Adams, the general manager at Jimmy Jack's, said he believes the restaurant's atmosphere would work well with the program.

"I think that Jimmy Jack's is definitely a learning environment," Adams said. "That's what we strive for, that we take the time to teach all of our employees, and that's what we'd do with our interns."

While students would not earn any wages directly for their 400 hours of training at the restaurants, they would receive seven credit hours if they continue on and join Kirkwood's culinary program and also receive certification from the National Restaurant Association.

"The idea is to get the experience, and have the hands on and hopefully in the end, end up with the paying position," Tate High Principal Will Hollander said.

Currently, plans go beyond just culinary work.

"There's the management side of it, cooking, learning to interact, present, describe meals as a chef would — those are the aspects that come to mind immediately," Hollander said. "The goal — besides training and educating kids — is to have that direct tie with industry and also that hands-on experience."

The program will use resources the school already has to minimize outside costs, the principal said.

"All we need to get are some additional materials to supply the Tate High School cooking space. A lot of what we're going to use is kitchen as it is," Hollander said. "It's small, but it is a commercial production kitchen."

Vandenberg said she felt the program would be a positive addition to the post-graduation and career placement programs the Iowa City school district offers students.

"I really don't see a downside to this," she said. "I think it's an excellent idea, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it turns out."

Yet Hollander said officials still have a few kinks to work out before the class opens to students in the fall.

"It's a long ways from being implemented," he said. "It's still in the brainstorm stage. We have training for staff to do, we have equipment to purchase, and transportation issues to take care of."

And Hollander said he's optimistic.

"Knock on wood that we do get it kicked off on time," he said.

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