Culinary Arts Program in Rockford Public Schools

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ROCKFORD (WIFR) -- It's been a well-kept secret in the Rockford Public School District, a class that's been around for nearly three decades. Some students are cooking at a local restaurant and that's helping them land jobs.

"This is an actual hands-on, on-site training for the 21st century and that's what it's all about," explains Patty Oliveri.

Oliveri is a Culinary Arts instructor for Rockford Public Schools and she has seven students in one of her classes, who you could call chefs in training. As part of the vocational education program that's been around for 27 years, select teens from the four high schools help staff at Hoffman House in Rockford.

"We do everything from salad bar to banquet preps and we also help out with the breakfast line too and lunch line sometimes."

This is Shannon Blue's second year in the culinary arts program.

"The helping hands around here is amazing, it's like one big giant family," says Blue.

Students hope the work they're doing in the kitchen will lead to a job or career, and with the skills they're learning, they have a good chance.

They also have a list of skills.

Oliveri explains, "They're going to be able to take this (skills list) to a job, so they want to add as many things as they possibly can."

Executive Chef Richard Johnson says students truly are a help.

"They just don't come in here and do things that don't matter, they actually come in here and physically work on items that are being served to our customers," says Johnson.

That hard work has lead to new hires at Hoffman House.

Johnson explains, "I'm always keeping my eye out for that one or two students who need this opportunity."

Last year students checked out the culinary arts program at Elgin Community College. The director of that program said even the students the college accepted, didn't have as much experience as RPS students. Part of that experience is prepping food for thousands of people at Hoffman House.

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