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Lanier Charter Career Academy cooks up job opportunities
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Frying pans, knives and whisks will be the learning tools of students who enroll in courses next fall at Hall County’s forthcoming classroom.

In December, Hall County schools will break ground on its new Lanier Charter Career Academy building that features a student-run bistro and professional kitchen. The building will house the academy’s hands-on culinary arts, digital marketing and hospitality programs when it opens next August.

The building will have a student-run coffee shop and a fine-dining bistro open to the public. At the bistro, students will showcase dishes made with the help of academy culinary instructor Terry Haymond. Depending on the influences of guest chefs from local restaurants, students could prepare a variety of meals with an Italian or Greek flair, for example.

Cindy Blakley, director of secondary schools for Hall County, said the school system teamed with Lanier Technical College to earn a $2.78 million grant from the Technical College System of Georgia. The partnership is one of five in the state to earn grants that promote dual enrollment for high school students.

Blakley said career academy students next fall will be able to earn certificates in culinary arts, hospitality management and multimedia communications.

“We believe all students need something more than a high school diploma if they’re going to be marketable,” she said.
Educators also hope the hands-on learning programs will tap into students’ career interests and encourage them to finish high school.

“I think we are trying to make some tie between what students are learning in the classroom and what they want to do with the rest of their life,” Blakley said. “... We are trying to get closer to real life and what life looks like after high school. We think by operating businesses that are open to the public, it will model what real life is like instead of with simulation.”

Technical certifications will give students a running start in the job market after high school or will aid them in finding work to support themselves through college, Blakley said.

Haymond said the more than 100 culinary students he has now at the academy are eager to get into the professional kitchen next fall. The introduction to culinary arts class he is teaching this fall instructs students on basic safety, sanitation, equipment knowledge, baking and presentation.

“When we go to the new building, students will be able to use equipment in a professional setting,” he said. “It gives them an opportunity to learn how to gain some experience and be more employable as soon as possible.”

He said it is not difficult to get high school students excited about food and the culinary program is gaining momentum.

“Attitudes have been outstanding. Kids are excited. They’re saying, ‘What are we doing today?’” Haymond said. “They are grasping on to some opportunities to have some skills and do things they enjoy. It’s a nice, new feel. It’s not traditional.”

The 24,000-square-foot building will be constructed alongside the existing Lanier Charter Career Academy off Atlanta Highway and will be completed before late June, said Jerry Huguley, Hall County schools’ director of construction.

The conditions of the grant require the building to be open in time for the 2010-11 school year.

The culinary arts building will have two classrooms, a coffee shop with tall cafe tables, a restaurant, a teaching kitchen, a working kitchen for the restaurant, a large meeting area and a gift shop. The gift shop will serve as a hands-on business through which digital marketing and hospitality students can gain experience.

Huguley said the brick building will have a foyer with a fireplace and the restaurant and cafe will have glass walls built around an old white oak tree.

“We’ve had about 100 calls saying, ‘Don’t harm that oak tree,’” he said. “It’s sort of a landmark. We’re going to sort of wrap the building around that oak tree. It’s going to really be something interesting.”