By Mary Carpenter | Photos Supplied
Go to college? Go to a Career & Technical (CTE) or vocational school? Go to work? Those are the choices facing most high school students as they look ahead to their future. In the not-so-distant past, the thinking was that top students went to college. Mid-level students might gravitate to a CTE or vocational school and the rest would go to work. All that has changed in recent years, thanks in part to the realization that college may not be the best fit for every high achiever and there are great opportunities for successful and lucrative careers in the trades for all students and all interests.
To learn more about opportunities in the North Country, I met recently with Michele Friedman, Director of Career & Technical Education at CV-TEC, which is the CTE Division of Champlain Valley Educational Services (CVES). She explained that her division is the primary provider of Career & Technical Education and Adult Literacy programs and services for high school students and adults in Clinton and Essex Counties. Programs are offered at three Tech Centers – one in Plattsburgh at the school’s main campus located at the intersection of Route 3 west of the city and the Military Turnpike. The second Plattsburgh location is at the One Workforce Campus on the former Plattsburgh Air Force Base Oval in the city’s center. The third is at the Mineville Campus in Essex County.
All CTE’s programs are designed to prepare students for successful careers and are approved by the New York State Education Department. Students who successfully complete one of CVES’ more than 25 programs can earn high school credit toward graduation requirements; advanced college credit; industry certifications, credentials and licenses; participate in internships, and are eligible for a New York State Education Department Advanced Regents Designation: CTE Endorsement
For this issue of Strictly Business my primary interest was the school’s Culinary Arts Management Program which teaches students the foundational skills needed for a career in the hospitality industry. Each class is normally made up of 60 students — 30 juniors and 30 seniors, but for those who want to explore what the program is all about, there is a pre-CTE curriculum for ninth graders which allows them to develop skills and determine whether the industry could be an attractive life’s work for them.
Based on a two-year ProStart curriculum, which is supported by the National Restaurant Association,CV-TEC Culinary Arts Management students participate in a full experience which includes classroom study, lab opportunities, mentored work, and hand-on experience operating the campus’ on-site café. They prepare and serve meals, develop their knowledge of food science and all phases of restaurant operations.
“We are proud to have three amazing chef-educators who bring years of hands-on industry experience to their teaching here,” Friedman stated. “Chef Bevan Gertsch-Cochran, the owner of the Twisted Carrot restaurant in downtown Plattsburgh, and Chef Tanner Senecal, owner of Fork & Knife Catering, both are Culinary Institute of America graduates teaching the Culinary Arts Management Program.” We also have American Culinary Federation certified, Chef Deborah Misik, who teaches our Pre-CTE Food Services Program.
The program offers much more than chef training. It exposes students to every aspect of hospitality operations – both front and back of the house, business/finance operations, management, and inventory. “While students are with us, we are teaching them math, science and English in the context of their major,” Friedman said.“Cooking and baking require an understanding of science; management requires them to know about math and, to be successful, they need to be able to communicate well. All CV-TEC teachers are New York State Certified CTE Teachers or Core Content Specialists who co-plan and co-teach the CTE and inherent academic core content that is applicable to the curriculum.”
Students are bussed from their home districts (juniors in the morning and seniors in the afternoon) and spend three hours of concentrated study on site each school day. “We cultivate talent here,” Friedman emphasized. “Our students develop their skills and then may have the opportunity to attend New York State Culinary Arts competitions. We are proud that several of them have gone on to complete at regional, state and even national level events.”
To maximize student opportunities, CV-TEC works with more than 300 business and industry partners who offer jobs, internships and shadowing opportunities. Many companies have donated equipment as well as their expertise. “We are always striving to be better. We have an obligation to continually improve and our mindset is always ‘We’re not OK with OK’,” Friedman emphasized.
For students who want to carry their career education further, CV-TEC has articulation agreements with many industry leaders and post-secondary partners including the Culinary Institute of America, Johnson & Wales, Paul Smiths College, Clinton and Schenectady Community Colleges, and SUNY Plattsburgh, Broome, Cobleskill, and Delhi. Friedman proudly shared that 98% of CV-TEC graduates either go on to higher education or are employed immediately after graduation or both!
“Our goal is to be an economic engine for the North Country,” she stated. “We are one of New York State’s major tourism areas and that means places like Plattsburgh, Lake Placid and Saranac Lake need skilled workers four seasons of the year. We want to help our students realize the opportunities they have in the region.”
As our interview wound down, I asked Friedman how the pandemic affected CV-TEC. “Wow, what a question,” she responded. “I have to say it was one of our best moments. We turned a challenge into a work-based experience. We could have been paralyzed, but since failure was not an option, we had to learn by doing. Students could no longer come for half day classes so we brought juniors in on Mondays and Tuesdays and seniors on Thursdays and Fridays. We cleaned on Wednesday. But that was only part of what we needed to do. We had never had our students in the building for an entire day, so we had to figure out how to feed approximately 600 people both breakfast and lunch. Talk about a learning curve, but we made it work.”
Despite the challenges of the pandemic, enrollment for all programs at CV-TEC has increased since 2020. “We have seen an explosion in our enrollment,” Friedman declared. “I believe the pandemic created renewed respect and interest for the skilled trades and we are here to meet the need,” she concluded.
1585 Military Turnpike
Plattsburgh, NY 12901