FEAST vocational program gives students a positive experience while learning valuable skills

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Miller Education Center student Bryerly Kurk brings a plate of Lasagna and shares a joke with Hillsboro School Board member Janeen Sollman. Therese Rice had a student last year who had some “intense anxiety issues,” she recalls. The teen didn’t get along with teachers, had vocal and physical outbursts in class, and was finally told he’d have to leave school.

Rice took him under her wing, tried to get to the root of his problems, and was able to get back on track during summer classes.

“He is absolutely excelling this year,” Rice says. “We were able to talk everybody into accepting him back. He’s one of our shining stars.”

Besides performing small miracles, Rice teaches a program called FEAST at the Miller Education Center, the Hillsboro School District’s alternative school that offers nine programs at five different sites. There’s a middle school site, a high school site, and two for adjudicated youth in the juvenile justice system.

Another site offers options for students in grade 9 to 12, either seeking high school credit, GED preparation or workforce training through a variety of vocational programs.

That’s where FEAST (Food Education And Sustainability Training) is located. Twelve of the 70 Miller high school students this year are enrolled in the elective, in which they learn everything from food preparation to the business side of food.

Students start by learning about food safety and nutrition, menu planning and basic food prep. By the end of the year they earn food handler’s cards, to get a leg up on a job in the catering or in the restaurant business.

In the second part of the school year, they host community lunches for staff members, family members, business people, police officers and others from the community who pay $5 per plate. The program relies on community support for about a third of its funds.

Students shop for local ingredients, prepare the food, decorate the tables, serve the food and clean up. The lunches are always sold out.

A couple of weeks ago, students made pulled pork sandwiches with coleslaw, vanilla bean creamer for the coffee, kaiser rolls baked after a lesson with a professional baker, and chocolate chip cookies. Everything was from scratch, and there’s a big emphasis on being sustainable: seeking local foods from farmers markets, trying to get local meats, recycling and using quality whole ingredients. by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Liz Rodriguez and Irene Chhvoey prepare deserts for the FEAST lunch.

This recent Thursday they served homemade veggie and meat lasagna and double fudge cookies for their biggest crowd yet: 25 people, including VIPs they didn’t want to disappoint.

The Hillsboro School Board, staff members and the students’ own families came out to eat and show their support.

Students are graded on participation and self evaluations; there are also weekly safety checks. The class is an hour-long elective, Monday through Friday as part of their regular school day at Miller.

Positive school experienceby: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Ryan Kolodziejczak serves water to Susie Swanson from Hutchins TV and Appliance. Swanson never misses a lunch prepared by the students in FEAST.

FEAST has run at Miller for 10 years, the past three at the current location: an unassuming former elementary school in the heart of downtown Hillsboro, just four blocks from the Civic Center.

The building, 215 S.E. Sixth Ave., was renovated to include a small laboratory kitchen for FEAST, with a couple of ovens and sinks. They also have access to the large dishwasher and giant ovens with the school cafeteria.

Rice says the program is fortunate to have support from the principal, who makes it a budget priority. Hillsboro has one other culinary program, at Liberty High School.

FEAST is unique in that it attracts local professional bakers and cooks who come in to give students lessons, including Rice’s own partner, a trained cook.

Part of the program’s popularity is its relevance to skills needed in the real world, Rice says. It’s also the pride in creating something successful with your own hands — and offering it up for others to share. by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Jordan Neeper and Christian Tovar wash dishes after a recent FEAST luncheon.

“We have so many students who’ve had horrible experiences in school itself,” says Rice, a Hillsboro schools graduate who also teaches Spanish and social studies at Miller. “This provides a constant, everyday positive school experiences for them. We try to do that in all of our classes, but for some students, science or language arts is never going to feel positive.”

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