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May 8, 2013

Rising Stars Academy to open this summer

By Maria Allard
C & G Staff Writer

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Rising Stars Academy to open this summer
Debbie and Mark Prentiss look forward to the opening of the Rising Stars Academy this August. The school/restaurant will be housed inside the former Miller Elementary School in Center Line.

CENTER LINE — A few years into his job as a culinary arts teacher in Warren Consolidated Schools, Mark Prentiss really wanted to provide a facility to students with special needs.

“There has got to be an opportunity for them in their lifetime,” he thought.

So the professional chef of 25 years got busy looking for an outlet for such students. This August, under Prentiss’ vision and with the help of the Rising Star Non-Profit board, the restaurant and school are scheduled to open.

With a “farm-to-plate” philosophy, the academy is open to special needs students ages 18 to 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 and Wayne counties.

The new school will be located in the former Miller Elementary School on Lawrence Street in Center Line Public Schools. The school closed a few years ago, but the building still stands. Prentiss said Rising Stars Academy will be about 17,000 square feet in size, which Prentiss said is about 47 percent of the building.

CLPS Superintendent Eve Kaltz said Rising Stars will lease space in the former Miller School for $19,021 per month on a 6-year lease.

“The money the district receives goes back into our general fund,” Kaltz said. “We realized that this program will service a population that we currently do not have any educational opportunities for. Some of the cognitively impaired students that have a certificate of completion from local high schools have to wait to get into a post secondary program, and we believe in providing as many choices as possible to prepare students for college and careers.”

“Center Line is our authorizing body,” Prentiss said. “We’re a charter school but a public school. We get per-pupil dollars.”

The non-profit board includes parents, educators, community members and professionals.

Miller’s gymnasium will undergo renovations to become the restaurant. A kitchen area with convection ovens, stoves and skillets will stand after renovations are completed. The goal is to start the first year with 100 students and then open it to 200 students down the road. There is no fee for students to attend.

The new school will include classrooms, and the students will grow their own crops and herbs in gardens and a hoop house, which Prentiss said is similar to a greenhouse. Along with cooking, the students will study finance, sales and sanitation. The restaurant’s name is yet to be determined. The plan is to open the restaurant for breakfast and lunch and also for small banquets.

“The students will help generate the menus,” said Prentiss, a 1979 Center Line High School graduate. “Before the restaurant opens, they’ll learn basic kitchen skills. There are so many learning opportunities.”

A 6-acre community garden has been planted on the school grounds. The gardens are being tilled, and Prentiss said CLHS National Honor Society members have volunteered to help plant, when the time comes. The gardens will have color-coordinated billboards to help keep the crops organized. Tomatoes, beans, squash, lettuce and carrots are among the crops planned. Prentiss plans for a pumpkin patch and also is hoping to get others involved with the program.

“We want the residents of Center Line to help maintain the garden and be able to harvest the vegetables or fruit and take their stuff home,” Prentiss said. “We want the community to become involved.”

Others are helping the project get off the ground. The Chas C. Hart Seed Co., in Wethersfield, Conn., donated more than 600 packs of seeds to grow vegetables, herbs and flowers. A local Buffalo Wild Wings donated restaurant tables.

For more information on Rising Stars Academy or to enroll, visit www.risingstars2013.com.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Maria Allard at allard@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1045.