Teen academies foster student learning

By: Maria Allard | C&G Newspapers | Published June 27, 2015

CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Although their eyes were stinging a bit and the smell wasn’t the most appealing, Rochelle Niemiec and Justin Updyke got the job done.

The pair chopped up a tray full of onions on the morning of June 23 as they prepared a delicious lunch from scratch alongside their classmates in the culinary/pastry arts summer teen academy at Macomb Community College’s Center Campus.

Every summer, the school offers a number of week-long academies in different fields to give local teenagers the opportunity to explore various careers.

During the week of June 22, the college welcomed 22 students into the culinary arts program, which MCC instructors Scott O’Farrell and Francois Faloppa taught. O’Farrell worked with the students to make salads, entrées and side dishes while Faloppa and the students perfected desserts, including cakes, pies and tarts. The students — clad in standard white kitchen chef hats and matching coats — spent two days with O’Farrell and two with Faloppa.

“It offers young students that have an interest in a specific field the opportunity to step into a professional setting and work hands-on with a chef,” O’Farrell said. “Students prepare a wide variety of things over the course of four days. I pair them up so they learn to work with another person. The kids are doing great. They’re very nice kids.”

Updyke, 15, is a student at Chippewa Valley High School who is interested in a possible career as a chef and plans to take a cooking course he said is offered at Dakota High School.

“I took this class,” he said of the summer academy. “I thought it would help me get ready for that.”

Niemiec, 14, said she cooks “every single day” at home. Her specialty dish a fruit and poultry concoction.

“I make a fruit bowl and I cook chicken with the fruits,” the Shelby Junior High School student said. “My mom, all my family loves it.”

Last Tuesday at Center Campus’ K building, one set of students and O’Farrell prepared a savory lunch of a mixed green salad with roasted tomatoes and fresh basil; braised pork chops with caramelized onions; polenta with sun-dried tomatoes and parmesan cheese; carrots with sugar snap peas; and cornbread.

A sweet aroma filled another kitchen as the second group of budding chefs made French bread and peanut butter cookies under Faloppa’s guidance. After a morning of cooking, the students and the instructors put on a buffet and sat down to eat. Along with making delicious meals, the students also covered the importance of sanitation in the kitchen.

Other summer academies include IT gaming, earn-as-you-learn apprenticeships, robotics, biotechnology, media and communication arts, hybrid electric vehicles, veterinary technician, computer programming, and law enforcement, fire service and emergency medical technician.

Last year, Lutheran High School North student Rachel Walenjus participated in the vet tech program.

“I enjoyed it,” she said. “It was a lot of hands-on. You got to learn a lot of neat things. I like working with animals.”

This summer, the 16-year-old Richmond resident, who said she “likes working with food,” came back for culinary arts. Last Tuesday, she was in charge of slicing up meat.

“Every team did a really good job,” she said.

Students must be at least 14 years old to attend the summer academies. Students who enroll in the law enforcement and fire service academies must be 16. For the second year in a row, AT&T awarded a $10,000 grant toward the summer academies so MCC could offer them to students at a reduced fee.

According to school officials, the grant, along with funding from the college’s National Science Foundation-funded Center for Advanced Automotive Technology, allowed students to attend the Hybrid Electric Vehicle Career Academy at no charge.

The summer academies are offered at the college’s three campuses: South in Warren; Center in Clinton Township; and East, also in Clinton Township. Class times vary.