Culinary arts academy producing ‘Rising Stars’

By: Maria Allard | Warren Weekly | Published October 9, 2013

 Devon Tupy, of Utica, prepares food Oct. 1 at the Rising Stars Academy in Center Line.

Devon Tupy, of Utica, prepares food Oct. 1 at the Rising Stars Academy in Center Line.

Photo by Deb Jacques

Rising Stars Academy staff and students are in need of the following donated items:

Hoses (100 inches or longer)
Sprinkler heads and spray nozzles
Shovels (long- and short-handle)
Adult-size boots
Bushel and peck baskets
Wooden crates
Lumber for signs
Small rototillers
Rasberry and blueberry bushes
Asparagus roots
Vegetable plants

If you would like to make a donation, visit or call (586) 806-6455.

CENTER LINE — Inside a classroom at the Rising Stars Academy Oct. 1, professional chef and educator Mark Prentiss and a group of students gathered around a kitchen counter. The culinary arts students paid attention as the instructor assigned them the task of making hamburgers.

“I want each of you to make a hamburger that weighs two ounces,” Prentiss said.

Afterward, the culinary arts teacher would inspect each burger.

With the support of Center Line Public Schools, volunteers and his wife, Debbie Prentiss, Mark Prentiss opened the Rising Stars Academy last month inside the former Miller Elementary School on Lawrence Street in CLPS. The school closed a few years ago, but the building still stood.

With a “farm-to-plate” philosophy, Rising Stars is open to special needs students ages 18-26 who leave high school with a certificate of completion. The students have disabilities that range from cognitive impairments to autism; they do not have a diploma upon exiting high school and are offered an education until they reach age 26. The school is offered to students in Macomb, Oakland, Wayne and St. Clair counties.

About 30 students are enrolled in the tuition-free nonprofit charter school, and there is always room for more budding chefs. Having such a program for special needs individuals had been a vision for Mark Prentiss several years. The 1979 Center Line High School graduate said the students will help generate the menus.

“It’s going pretty well. The kids are doing really good,” he said. “It’s hard to believe the amount of support (from) people in the short amount of time we’ve been doing this.”

Inside the school, students are learning how to cook and prepare food, and how to run a restaurant. The students also are studying finance and sales, and they are growing their own crops and herbs in several acres of garden behind the school and in a hoop house, which is similar to a greenhouse. There also is a chicken coop and 10 chickens for eggs.

Keeping everything “really santized” is also a big part of the curriculum, 25-year-old Liz Mercer, of Harrison Township, said.

“We’ve been learning how to hold a knife, proper cutting, how to sautee and how to set up the table for guests,” Mercer said.

Miller’s gymnasium underwent renovations to became the school’s restaurant. A kitchen area with convection ovens, stoves and skillets was installed. The Rising Stars Academy has seven classrooms.

Last week, the students — including 22-year-old Paul Banks, of Warren — prepared for an open house for family and friends Oct. 2. The menu would include hamburgers, salad and ice cream sundaes.

“I’ll be working on making hamburgers,” said 19-year-old Joshua Kowalski, who finds culinary arts “interesting.”

The  Clinton Township resident’s speciality is making muffins. He said his girlfriend doesn’t cook, and he wants to teach her.

At the open house, the students were to receive their own individualized chef’s coats, which they have been waiting for patiently.

Warren resident Sebastian Dulecki has always felt comfortable inside a kitchen. The 19-year-old finds cooking both easy and challenging at the same time. Italian dishes are his favorite.

“My passion is to cook,” he said. “I love cooking.”

Dulecki said he is “having fun and learning new skills” at Rising Stars.

“I like the set up,” he said. “There’s lots of respect for all these people in the building.”

At the end of each school day, the students meet inside the “Galaxy Reading Room” for “mentor time,” where the future chefs discuss what went well during the day and what didn’t. It’s where they work on their reading, math and employability skills, too.

“You need math and reading to follow recipes,” Debbie Prentiss said.

“There is a plan to send them to work sites in the second semester.”

That begins in January. One work site will include the academy’s restaurant, and there are some outside eateries interested.

Debbie Prentiss estimates the restaurant will open to the public in mid-November and can seat about 75 patrons. Debbie Prentiss said the students must earn the ServSafe food handler certificate prior to the restaurant’s opening.

Rising Stars is leasing space in the former Miller School for $19,021 per month on a six-year lease. The money goes back into the CLPS general fund. Center Line is the school’s authorizing body, and the schol receives per-pupil dollars. Class is from 8:15 a.m. to about 3 p.m. each day.

For more information on Rising Stars Academy or to enroll, visit or call (586) 806-6455.