As part of his weeklong tour of food-related business and establishments across Rhode Island, U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin on Monday stopped by the Cranston Area Career and Technical Center (CACTC) housed at Cranston High School West to pay a visit to the Culinary Arts staff and students.
Joining him were CACTC Director Gerry Auth and guidance counselor Lori Velino, Cranston High School West Principal Tom Barbieri and Assistant Principal John Fontaine, Cranston Superintendent of Schools Dr. Judith Lundsten and Assistant Superintendent of Schools Jeannine Nota-Masse, as well as Chef Martha Sylvestre, Chef Steve Versacci and Chef Maria Thresher of the Culinary Arts Department.
The congressman spoke with the students, teachers and administration and enjoyed a sampling of the students’ culinary skills and talents at lunchtime. Langevin’s visit to CACTC coincided with Career and Technical Education Month, and also with Langevin’s work as co-chair of the Congressional Career and Technical Education Caucus.
As Langevin toured the full restaurant-style kitchen housed at CACTC and dined in the restaurant dining room facility, the Meschanticut Room, he spoke at length with the students about the importance of getting a career, the role of technical education and the importance of securing needed federal funding for such high-quality programs.
“I am a champion of career and technical education in Rhode Island, along with my colleague from Pennsylvania, Congressman Glenn Thompson. We believe in the value of these programs,” he said.
CACTC gets a great deal of its funding from the Perkins Grant each year, and Auth showed Langevin many of the benefits that the culinary arts program has received from that funding.
“We benefit from every dollar,” Auth said. “We just recently had to replace a refrigerator in this kitchen and we were able to use some of the funding from the Perkins Grant to replace it. We also are able to fund an assistant chef to work with our students, in addition to purchasing other needed equipment.”
Langevin spoke about the recent victory for career and technical education, thanks to his fight in Congress to keep level funding for those programs.
“We have been battling to protect these programs ever since we saw a cut in funding in 2010,” he said. “We have been trying to restore that funding and we recently saw a victory when $53 million was put back into the budget. This directly benefits our students.”
Langevin discussed the fact that as part of his tour, he is working with many of the food producers across the state and others in the Rhode Island food economy to help re-brand Rhode Island as the “Silicon Valley of Food,” an idea first introduced to Langevin by Davide Dukcevich, the co-owner of Daniele Inc. in Burrillville.
As the congressman spoke one-on-one with the culinary students, he asked each of them what their future plans were after finishing up at West and CACTC. Auth stressed that the majority of the students at CACTC are college-bound, and that the skills they learn at the school give them a boost in the college application process and throughout their future education and career paths.
One senior who spoke to Langevin, Samantha Palmieri, shared with the congressman that she’d just learned of her acceptance to Johnson & Wales University to further her studies in culinary arts.
“I want to be either a chef or maybe specifically a pastry chef,” Palmieri said.
Auth spoke of the wide opportunities at CACTC for students to explore their career interests, through internships and field visits.
“We have several programs here with internships, and the culinary students spend every seventh day of their schedule out in the field, visiting food-related establishments,” Auth said.
Langevin stressed to the students the importance of garnering as many internship opportunities as possible during their high school years, and reminded them to look at each one as a job interview.
“Every internship is like a job interview with a potential employer, and every employer looks at their interns as a potential employee,” he said.
The congressman also congratulated the students on their culinary talents as he enjoyed lunch.
“This is definitely a class act here, a real, live kitchen with food like you see on ‘Iron Chef.’ I’m very impressed; you’ve got a great operation here. The skills you’re gaining will serve you well when you graduate. They are real-world skills, skills you need in society,” he said. “It’s been so nice to see how the Perkins Act money has been utilized here. I often see the policy side of things and I fight for this funding, but it’s wonderful to see where that funding is going. I will be carrying this experience back to my colleagues in Washington.”