DC’s Restaurant Association Is Launching Culinary Training at Public High Schools

ProStart will help foster a new generation of restaurant professionals.

Nina Gilchrist, chef Lozita King, and Dione Simmons (left to right) pose at the RAMW event where ProStart was announced. Photograph by Regina Park

Careers in the culinary world will become more accessible for students at three DC public schools this fall. ProStart, a national program that’s run locally by the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington (RAMW), will launch a two-year comprehensive curriculum that includes hospitality business training, an internship/mentorship program with local restaurants, and scholarships for seniors. It comes at a time when trained restaurant workers are needed in DC more than ever, and interest in homegrown businesses such as the newly opened Village Cafe near Union Market is high. 

This is very specific to getting into high schools, and finding opportunities to really get the highly skilled workers in both front of the house and back of the house,” says Kathy Hollinger, president of RAMW. 

ProStart was created by the National Restaurant Association, though Hollinger emphasizes that it’s customizable for the needs of local students and businesses. This is the second start for it in the District (the program went on hiatus in 2009 due to changes at the RAMW). Ballou High School in Southeast, Petworth’s Theodore Roosevelt High School, and “alternative high school” Roosevelt STAY will test-run the curriculum starting in November. It’ll expand to other schools if successful. The only criteria necessary to teach ProStart is a functioning kitchen designated for student use on the school grounds, and a culinary teacher with at least two years of industry experience.

Chef Juenville Dean is one of the first teachers that will be taking on the program at Roosevelt High–a school that’s geared towards students ages 16 to 24, and which already had culinary job training in place. In addition to cooking instruction, Dean’s focus is to help students “see beyond the kitchen” with management, nutrition, and hospitality classes. Courses are geared towards careers in all kinds of food service, from franchises to small independent restaurants and Michelin star venues.

“It exposes them to that world that we don’t currently expose them to,” says Dean. “It’ll open the door to collegiate opportunities that a lot of my students don’t necessarily have.”

For the adult students at Roosevelt STAY who dream of leaving their day jobs for a full-time culinary career, the mentorship portion is especially exciting. Student Nina Gilchrist, who’s opening an American restaurant in Woodridge, says “having a greater ability to connect with the chef, having someone mentor me and guide me through this process” will be hugely helpful.

Interim chancellor of DC Public Schools Amanda Alexander, who was an integral part of the negotiations for bringing ProStart back, is a driving force behind this initiative.

“Quality education has check boxes, and ProStart addresses all of those,” says Alexander.

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