By Mike Marsee
Jazmine Wallace believes Harrodsburg needs a bakery and she believes she should be the one to open it.
It makes no difference to the Burgin High School senior that one of her first steps toward that goal has taken her out of her school building, out of her community and maybe even out of her comfort zone.
Wallace’s belief has taken her to a newly refurbished kitchen in a culinary arts career pathway at an unlikely place, Kentucky School for the Deaf, where she became one of the first participants in a program that is giving students at three small schools in central Kentucky more options to become college- and career-ready.
KSD has created the CCR (college- and career-ready) Exchange. It’s a unique program in which hearing students from Burgin and Danville high schools can attend classes with deaf or hard-of-hearing students from KSD, and all of them can acquire skills needed in the 21st-century workforce.
Wallace is acquiring those skills in a spacious kitchen that was largely reconstructed prior to the start of the school year.
“It is awesome. It is more than I could ever dream of, being able to work in a kitchen like this. It’s just huge, being able to get a chance to work in the kitchen and learn new techniques and ideas,” she said.
Wallace and the other Burgin students participating in the program take an eight-mile bus ride from their school to the KSD campus in Danville for two morning classes. For the students from Danville, it is a trip of only eight city blocks.
Students from the two small independent districts combine with KSD students to give classes in five career pathways a more vibrant atmosphere than they might otherwise have.
“We can do more work instead of being so limited,” KSD sophomore Payne Yance said through an interpreter. “Everybody can be involved in groups and it’s fun,”
Yance and Wallace are among 15 students in Mandy Byrne’s culinary arts class. Only two of them are KSD students. Byrne said it would be a much different class without the other 13.
“We wouldn’t have the diversity that we have in this classroom, and students learning to work with other people,” she said.
Soraya Matthews, the career and technical education coordinator and high school administrator at KSD, said the program was born out of an idea by KSD Principal Will Begley.
“When he came on board last year, he looked at the programs and some of the opportunities, but then he also saw the need,” Matthews said. “We’ve got so many resources here in some areas, but maybe not so many in other areas.”
KSD has no shortage of resources like classrooms and a veteran staff, but it doesn’t have many students. There are fewer than 50 students in the high school grades. Begley approached leaders at the two independent districts about setting up classes for students from all three schools.
“We’re trying to be relevant,” Begley said. “We just had a low number of kids taking our classes, and we don’t want to shut down our program because of the facilities and good teachers we’ve got.”
Burgin Principal Chris LeMonds said he liked the idea immediately.
“When Will approached me about it, it was a no-brainer for us, because at Burgin we don’t have the resources to be able to offer some of the classes for our kids that they want to take,” he said. “We have agriculture and family and consumer science classes, but our kids want to expand beyond that.”
LeMonds said the CCR Exchange doesn’t present the same problem that Burgin students who attend the Harrodsburg Area Technology Center face, where it can take two years to complete a program due to scheduling difficulties.
“This is perfect for us,” he said. “We’re able to send kids over here and they’re able to complete a pathway in one year. “We just want to expand on all the different offerings that the kids can take. Our kids get to pick from five different programs here, and then they’ve got five or six programs at the ATC. That’s a lot more that they have the option to take this year as opposed to years before.”
Sheri Satterly, the guidance counselor at Danville, said her school signed on for the same reasons.
“There wasn’t even a question about it. The more pathways we can open to the kids, the more successful they might be in their postsecondary transition,” Satterly said. “And it was full as soon as I advertised it.”
Officials from all three schools said they expect the program to grow to the point where each school is hosting students from the other two.
“Burgin may want to send some kids to Danville for a class and vice versa. It’s a true exchange, because when you have two independent districts and us, it just makes sense,” Begley said.
It’s making dollars for Jay Miller, a Burgin senior in the manufacturing engineering pathway. He landed a job in research and development with a Bryantsville manufacturer that is looking to add computer numerical control technology, which Miller is studying and presented in a video with his application.
“I feel this program’s really beneficial to me because of the job I’m going into,” Miller said. “I wish they’d offered it sooner.”
Down the hall, agricultural education teacher Sandy Smock is just as excited. She has poultry incubators, aquaponics tanks, a small engine laboratory, a nearly new John Deere tractor and a 23-acre farm for students in the animal science systems and horticulture pathway.
“Their energy is contagious. They’re a little uncertain about what we’re going to do, but they’re excited about the opportunity,” Smock said. “Between them and the logistics of what we have here at KSD, I think that we’re going to have an outstanding ag ed program.”
Not all of the new faces at KSD are students. Byrne, the culinary arts teacher, came to the school this summer after 15 years at Boyle County Middle School.
“It was very much an attraction, just being able to offer students in our area something that didn’t exist, a different opportunity for these kids,” said Byrne, who is working with an interpreter while she learns American Sign Language.
Byrne’s students in the culinary arts pathway were enjoying their opportunity as they scurried around the kitchen making cupcakes and frosting for a retirement party.
“I think this is a very good class because it gives you plenty of opportunities,” Burgin senior Hanna Poppas said. “We learn basic cooking skills, we’ll be able to learn social skills when we get to cater and serve people.”
“I think the best part is making new friends and learning how to cook. It just gives you more experience,” Danville junior Brittany Thomas said.
The Danville and Burgin students also are learning to work with their KSD counterparts despite their language barrier.
“These kids have just done an excellent job of finding ways to communicate with each other. I have really enjoyed watching them embrace that,” Byrne said. “I think they bring a lot energy to our class. They want to learn, they’re really excited to be here. They also want to learn deaf culture. They’re adding a lot to our classroom.”
Yance said KSD students are learning from the Danville and Burgin students, too.
“It’s nice,” he said. “I’ve learned different cultures. We see our culture and their culture, so it’s different.”
“I think it’s been an exciting opportunity for our students,” KSD’s Matthews said. “Of course we went in a little hesitant and worried and concerned about how the students from different cultures would mesh, but so far they’ve hit it off. That’s what kids do.
“And I don’t want it to get lost that the main goal of this entire program is to get students college- and career-ready.”
Wallace said she hopes to move on to Sullivan University next year to study culinary arts and get a degree in business management. The CCR Exchange has given her a good start toward her dream of opening that bakery, she said.
“It’s really great, because I get to interact with other people,” Wallace said, “not just the Burgin community, but outside of my own comfort zone. I get a chance to work with them and work with the food itself and have other people give feedback on it.
“I’ve learned how to interact with people who cannot hear and who probably have trouble speaking as well. I’ve also learned that other people have ideas and I need to not only take into consideration their ideas, but also get to communicate and talk with people about my own ideas.”
MORE INFO …
Will Begley firstname.lastname@example.org
Mandy Byrne email@example.com
Mandy Byrne’s culinary arts class on Facebook
Chris LeMonds firstname.lastname@example.org
Soraya Matthews Soraya.email@example.com
Sheri Satterly firstname.lastname@example.org
Sandy Smock Sandra.email@example.com