TAUNTON – Taunton High School is getting a yummy piece of pie worth $15,000 courtesy of Rachael Ray.
Thanks to the celebrity cook and businesswoman’s The Rachael Ray Foundation and its nonprofit Yum-O!, Taunton High’s culinary program will be able to cover the cost of some new kitchen equipment, textbooks, cooking-oriented practice materials and student travel expenses to competitions.
Taunton High School is one of just eight high schools across the country that is getting a share of $425,000 in grants from Ray’s foundation. The grant awards will be disbursed by the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation.
“I think it’s wonderful,” said Darla Hartung, who is co-director along with Michael Raposa of the school’s Department of Career and Technical Education.
Culinary arts is one of the CTE’s seven state Chapter 74-approved vocational technical education programs, the others being marketing; business technology; CAD drafting; radio and TV broadcasting; website design/programming; and a 10-day “exploratory” rotation of nine programs so students can decide what’s best suited to their tastes.
Taunton High’s CTE also comprises half a dozen non-Chapter 74 programs such as carpentry and engineering technology.
The common denominator for schools receiving the Rachael Ray grant funding is ProStart — a two-year career and technical education program offered to 1,900 schools with a combined student body of 150,000 in all 50 states, as well as in Guam and Department of Defense Education Activity schools in Europe and the Pacific.
“It’s an extremely selective group,” said Jennifer Almeida, a Taunton High graduate and director of education for the Massachusetts Restaurant Association Educational Foundation.
Almeida, 32, said she didn’t know how many of the 1,900 schools competed for the grant funding, but said it’s reasonable to assume at least 100 did.
Taunton High’s culinary program includes a public-access restaurant called Tiger Den Café, which opened a year ago, a commercial-grade kitchen and four “bake labs” in separate rooms where students learn the basics of professional food preparation.
Hartung says nearly half of Taunton High’s 2,700 students take vocational courses and that 90 are enrolled in the culinary program, which also focuses on restaurant management.
The Rachel Ray Foundation “ProStart Grow Grant” program is specifically designed to “engage and educate high school students interested in exploring restaurant and food service careers,” according to a press release issued by the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation.
Taunton High junior Emily Mann is one of those students, although she’s less interested in cooking as she is in either food-oriented photography or journalism.
“I want to travel. I don’t want to be stuck in a kitchen all day,” said Mann, 17, with a smile.
Mann was one of two students who contributed essays to the grant application.
Culinary Arts Instructor Leigh Howlett says she would like to use the $15,000 to buy a commercial bread proofer to cook fresh bread, a second convection oven and various hand tools.
Howlett is one of two chefs, who along with three cooking instructors run the culinary program.
Howlett said the new equipment will be used for a course focusing on pastry arts and advanced baking, which she says has become a popular industry trend among culinary-oriented high school and college students.
Taunton Schools Superintendent John Cabral gives credit to his predecessor Julie Hackett, who left in 2018 for a similar job in Lexington, for her involvement in introducing more vocational programs and courses at the high school.
“I’m continuing the work Julie Hackett started to provide students access” to alternative avenues of study, Cabral said.