GEORGE COUNTY, Miss. (WKRG) – 45 students that expressed interest in the culinary arts program at George County High School for this new academic year weren’t initially able to enroll.

With one teacher, the classes were at capacity, so the district hired a second teacher. Ashton Estis will take on 44 first-year students while Danielle Frey teaches 26 second-year students in her eighth year at GCHS.

Both come with experience in either catering or restaurant management on the Gulf Coast and know the importance of the skills the students are learning.

“Right now the job market is wide open. They can go into any part of the restaurant industry and find available jobs right now because there’s such a demand for the students,” Frey said.

The food service industry is one of the fastest growing career fields in the state, according to the Mississippi Department of Employment Security. It’s expected to add 11,190 jobs from 2018 to 2028, growing by 11.7%– just behind health care and ahead of construction.

Students split time between the classroom and kitchen. They learn about safety, cooking equipment and how to prepare different kinds of food. They take field trips to learn about different businesses and college opportunities in the industry, operate a small cafè in the high school library and cater for school and community events.

“The senior citizens prom is probably my favorite one,” Frey said. “My students get to go buy the groceries for that, we get to prepare that meal, take it over to the senior citizens building. And we feed about 100 to 150.”

The two-year program aims to prepare students for any interest, whether continuing education at a college or university, or going straight into the workforce. Students finish the program with a ServSafe certification valid for five years.

The class also competes in SkillsUSA competitions. Last year, GCHS won third place in the culinary event and second place in restaurant service at the state level. It’s a big accomplishment for some students that come into class knowing only how to make toast.

“We start practicing and they go ‘that’s how that works.’ That light bulb goes off and that’s my favorite moment in the classroom. It’s really fun to watch that,” Frey said.

Culinary arts is one of 10 career and technical education programs offered at GCHS. The school plans to add an additional unit within the next five years based on student and industry demand. It will either expand a program already offered or add an entirely new one. Options range from HVAC to information technology to sports medicine.

The district’s goal is to get 50% of all high school students enrolled in at least one CTE program every school year. About 47% are currently enrolled to start class Thursday.

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