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Turning up the heat
New culinary curriculum to allow students to earn college credit

SUWANEE - For years, the culinary arts classroom had the reputation of being a place where a student could go to make an easy A.

But a curriculum overhaul will soon increase the rigor in the class and give students knowledge that will carry into postsecondary education.

As the new curriculum goes into effect next year, students will be able to earn college credit in high school in classes taught by industry professionals, said David Ross, a chef who teaches part time for North Gwinnett High School.

"The classes are becoming more rigorous and more in-depth in hopes of encouraging and exciting students to move on to postsecondary education," said Ross, who also works part time for the Georgia Department of Education.

Ross said three levels of culinary arts will be offered, and the classes will focus on teaching students basics such as sanitation and knife safety skills. The classes will be especially beneficial to students who want to pursue a career in the food services industry.

Gwinnett County Public Schools is working to establish an articulation agreement with Gwinnett Technical College, which will allow students to earn some college credit in high school, Ross said.

Cathy Maxwell, Gwinnett Tech's vice president of academic affairs, said the college has developed articulation agreements with several high school programs. The agreements often entice students to take technical classes in high school, she said.

Jody Reeves, the county school district's director of technical education, computer science and apprenticeships, said the articulation agreements provide a seamless transition into college.

"Everyone needs some kind of postsecondary training to develop the skills they need to be successful," she said. "Our goal is to provide training so students have lots of different options in culinary arts and food services."

Students will also have the opportunity to learn how to cook in a professional environment. North Gwinnett's kitchen classroom will be renovated, pending funding, to include commercial equipment, Reeves said. The Grayson Technical Education Program already has a commercial kitchen, and Meadowcreek and Mill Creek have some professional equipment as well.

With changes in curriculum, culinary arts teachers will be receiving training in the areas they will be teaching, Ross said. He will be running workshops throughout the state, and he runs a Web site, www.teachfood.org, that he calls a "one-stop shop" with lesson plans, recipes and other tools for culinary arts teachers.

Improving teachers' knowledge will help lift the students' education into higher and higher levels, he said.

"Georgia has been making a big concerted effort to improve education at all levels," Ross said. "We have one of the worst drop-out rates in the country. ... Improving curriculum will reduce the drop-out rate and raise the bar of education."

Gwinnett County Public Schools' drop-out rate is hard to pinpoint because the district cannot always track each student who leaves the system, but the rate typically falls between 4 and 6 percent, Associate Superintendent Cindy Loe said.

As the state has been increasing the rigor in its curriculum, the district is also moving forward with its plan to eliminate technical-level core classes in English, math, science and social studies. This year, only college-preparatory social studies is being offered.