Angie Drago, the ProStart instructor at Fontainebleau High School, was awarded the James H. Maynard Excellence in Education award in Chicago last month, after being selected from a group of 35 ProStart Educator Excellence Award 2012 winners from across the nation.
She was one of two ProStart educators to receive the $5000 cash prize award from the National Restaurant Association Education Foundation and Golden Corral.
The presentation was held at the ProStart Educator Excellence Awards Luncheon for ProStart educators who excel both in and out of the classroom. A Fontainebleau High ProStart instructor since 2004, Ms. Drago won the 2012 Louisiana Restaurant Association Education Foundation’s (LRAEF) “ProStart Educator of the Year” Award in February.
Ted Fowler, president and CEO of Golden Corral, said, "We are proud to honor the industry’s unsung heroes like Angie – an educator who represents the front-line in preparing our students for successful careers and helping them realize their true potential."
“We are so proud of Angie’s recognition,” said LRAEF Chair John Eastman. “Her dedication to her students and her commitment to the ProStart program at Fontainebleau is exemplary.”
ProStart is a nationwide two-year high school program that offers occupational training in the restaurant industry to help develop prospective food service leaders. From culinary techniques to management skills, ProStart’s industry-oriented curriculum provides real-life experience opportunities and builds practical skills for the hospitality industry. Several high schools across St. Tammany Parish use the “ProStart” career/technical curriculum developed by the National Restaurant Association.
A Family and Consumer Science teacher at Fontainebleau High since 2003, Drago implemented and coordinates the school's ProStart program, manages and maintains a commercial kitchen laboratory, oversees purchasing and student catering events, and trains students for three key industry certifications: NRAEF ProStart Certificate of Achievement, NRAEF ServSafe Food Safety Manager Certification, and NRF Professional Customer Service Certification. She is chairman of the school’s Vocational Department and coordinates Career Day.
In her application for the Excellence in Education Award, she said, “The ProStart program has inspired me to develop and facilitate a variety of integrated educational experiences for my ProStart students. Two of the projects I have developed and successfully implemented include community projects and the senior management project.”
“One of our community projects, the Empty Bowls Project, provides the students with the opportunity to work collaboratively with the community to raise money through the marketing, production, and sales of food and art,” she explained. The project was inspired by a nationwide hunger-fighting initiative (emptybowls.net) and involves sales of a lunch: soup, bread, and dessert, accompanied by a clay bowl created by art students.
“Besides practicing a number of foodservice skills, the students are able to hone other essential skills sets: communication, teamwork, work ethic, professionalism, and philanthropy. Our local food pantry is grateful to receive our contribution of $1000, annually,” Ms. Drago said “Through opportunities like these, it is my goal that the students recognize the role of the foodservice industry in giving back to a community.”
She said she recognizes that ProStart teachers play a crucial role in fostering relationships between school and industry, the most effective ProStart program being one that exists both inside and outside of the classroom. “Because our ProStart students have established a presence in the community, we have been invited to participate in a variety of community events, further expanding the scope of student opportunity. For the past four years, we have been invited to represent ourselves as a restaurant at the annual Chef Soiree. Experiences such as this one continue to facilitate the development of foodservice skills and many fundamental employability skills – work ethic, team work, professionalism, and communication,” she said.
Ms. Drago is proud of the students’ response to ProStart training as well. They have told her of the many career and employment benefits the training has provided.
Last February Ms. Drago presented a detailed report on the program to the School Board. In that report, she stated, “ProStart is a comprehensive restaurant management curriculum, involving much more than one would think. Students come into ProStart classes and are sometimes surprised to see how much math is involved, but they enjoy applying their math skills in real-world applications. They see it not only on paper, but they are living it in the kitchen.”
In 2012 James Blanchard, ProStart Coordinator for the Louisiana Restaurant Association’s Education Foundation visited St. Tammany’s ProStart classes and explained that the program gives students the chance to meet some of the top industry professionals. “It’s a great opportunity for the students to work side by side with well-known Chefs,” he said. “The program results have been fantastic. We are getting stronger and expanding into new areas every year,” he said. “We have kids who complete the two-year program and either go on into secondary education courses or straight into the workforce.”
The NRAEF’s ProStart Educator Excellence Awards recognize exceptional ProStart educators with the help of participating state restaurant associations who nominate its Educator of the Year who has demonstrated a strong commitment to his or her students and to the ProStart program. Winning educators were flown into Chicago last month and hosted by the NRAEF to participate in a weekend of celebration, networking and learning.
Lynette McKee, executive director of the NRAEF, said,“ProStart unites the industry and the classroom to create a unique and unparalleled experience for students. The Educator Excellence Award winners embody all that make ProStart educators successful – inspiration, leadership, collaboration – and are very deserving of this honor."
ProStart courses were established by the National Restaurant Association 17 years ago, and the program has been active in Louisiana for the past 14 years.
To view a photograph of Ms. Drago's award presentation, click here.
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