This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
The Philadelphia School District’s career and technical education (CTE) programs give students an opportunity to choose a career path that best matches their interests and talents, while gaining hands-on training in high school. Many students who have participated in one of the District’s 41 CTE programs have transitioned to post-secondary institutions – college, university, or technical school — and some have also gotten jobs in their chosen fields right out of high school.
The Notebook asked several graduates from a District CTE program how their participation shaped their interests and lives. We interviewed students from a variety of programs, from culinary arts to computer systems networking to auto-body collision repair.
Several profiles will appear in our upcoming Fall Guide to High Schools, due out Sept. 4, and over the next few weeks, we will preview some of these students’ stories online.
Our first profile is of Precious Terry, a 2012 graduate of Randolph Career Academy’s culinary arts program.
For some, starting on a CTE track is not simply about making money after graduation; it’s also about pursuing the chance to do something you love.
Precious Terry, now 20, chose to join the culinary arts CTE program at Randolph Career Academy because of her love for TV cooking shows and for making meals at home.
Initially, Terry didn’t know that she would come out of the program with certification that would allow her to work in her field. Instead, she enrolled to explore what she could do in the kitchen.
“I kind of got interested in what I could actually make,” Terry said.
According to the District, the culinary arts program at Randolph prepares students for food industry careers, including positions in institutional, commercial, or self-owned food establishments. In the classes, students study culinary theory and gain laboratory and work experience preparing and serving quality food. Students also learn to use commercial equipment and are taught industry safety guidelines.
Although Terry entered the program without any expectations of where her interest might lead, her open-mindedness led her to success. She earned state certification in culinary arts and the highest National Occupational Competency Testing Institute (NOCTI) score in her class. The NOCTI exam is required by the Pennsylvania Department of Education for CTE students to measure job readiness.
After graduating from Randolph in 2012, she won a fellowship that covered her full tuition to Monroe College in New York City. This past April she graduated with two degrees: an associate’s degree in baking and pastry, and a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management. She said that support from her culinary arts teacher, Erik LeBlanc, was crucial to her getting to college and earning the fellowship.
“My chef LeBlanc helped me from start to finish. He showed me the skills they wanted, [and] how they wanted it to be done. He’d tell me, ‘Try using less of this or more of that,’ or ‘Make your cuts a bit thinner,’” she explained.
LeBlanc was also responsible for getting Terry to make her first dessert, a chocolate lava cake. It was a hit, Terry said. She said the experience was pivotal, as it shifted her passion from cooking to baking.
In July, Terry accepted a job as a line cook on Spirit Entertainment Cruise Line. She’s excited about the job, though it means flipping back from sweet to savory kitchen work. The new position will allow her to brush up on the original skills she learned at Randolph.
“I decided to take the job because my culinary arts skills are a little rusty. It will give me a chance to renew what I know,” she said.
“I [also] like the fact that it’s fast-paced. It gives me a chance to experiment with the recipes.”
She’s not about to give up her passion for baking, though.
“On the side, I have my own business. I make cupcakes [and sweets] that friends and family order.”
Michaela Ward was an intern at the Notebook this summer.
Notebook coverage of career and technical education is supported by a grant from the Lenfest Foundation.