On a typical school day, you’ll find Audra Cooper in an atypical classroom; one that has a commercial freezer, stoves and ovens, and a collection of pots, pans and utensils, along with the usual desks and computers.
For the past three years, as the ProStart teacher at Grandview High School, Cooper has helped students develop their business and culinary knowledge and skills and start building careers in the hospitality industry.
ProStart is a high school hospitality education program of the Colorado Restaurant Association Education Foundation. It is a two-year foodservice and hospitality management curriculum offered to high school juniors and seniors, and is offered at Grandview and Smoky Hill high schools through the Career and Technical Education department of the Cherry Creek School District. Students from any high school in the district can take ProStart classes, which offer students college credits through Metro State University, and allow them to gain experience through events and caterings, learn from industry mentors and network within the hospitality industry.
Cooper has done such a good job teaching the program, she was recently named the 2015 Colorado ProStart Teacher of the Year by the Colorado Restaurant Education Association Education Foundation. She’ll be treated to a trip to the 2015 National Restaurant Association Food Show in Chicago in May to receive the award.
“It means the world to me,” Cooper said. “I’ve worked really hard to develop the curriculum, scope and sequences and industry relationships that help make this program so valuable to students. Sometimes as a teacher, you feel unrecognized, so this is really special.”
Cooper’s students have also been recognized for their accomplishments. Four of her students were selected to work with a chef and prepare and serve meals to elite athletes at the FIS World Alpine Ski Championships last month in Vail. They are also headed back to the 2015 ProStart Invitational competition at Johnson & Wales University to compete in the culinary and management competitions. Last year, they won the 2014 Sysco traveling trophy symbolizing their 1st place win in the management competition and 3rd place win in the culinary competition. They even had the opportunity, for the first time in Grandview history, to attend the National ProStart Competition in Minneapolis, Minnesota.