ProStart®: Giving Students a “Taste” of Catering and Restaurant Management

The ProStart® Academy is a magnet program at John F. Kennedy High School in Winston-Salem, NC, that gives students the exciting opportunity to learn about the art of cooking and managing restaurants by training with professional chefs and getting valuable classroom instruction, earning college credit and making money while in high school.

“Students begin training in the 9th grade with the foundational courses of Food & Nutrition 1 and Food & Nutrition 2 (10th grade). ProStart 1 and ProStart 2 are offered in the 11th and 12th grades in conjunction with 400 hours of internship to earn the ProStart COA (Certificate of Achievement), a credential recognized for college credit, similar to AP courses in academics. Our instructor, Chef Sherry Billings, teaches all of our students. Although Food & Nutrition 1 is offered at every high school in the area, at JFK, the 9th-grade students focus on specific skills to prepare them for their next three years in the program. All of our students participate in our school-based catering enterprise. This ‘business’ provides many small activities, along with a few big ones, to offer students real work experience. Recently, our students catered a luncheon meeting at JFK for the NC Restaurant and Lodging Association’s Board of Directors. Through this event, our students gained experience in planning, selecting menu choices, costing, purchasing, cooking, serving, presentation and sanitation,” explained Nancy Harris, Career Development Coordinator & CTE Magnet Coordinator, JFK High School.

The ProStart curriculum is exclusive to John F. Kennedy High School and is one of four Career Technical Education Academies available at the magnet high school. The others include Construction & Design (Masonry), Health Sciences (Pharmacy Technician), and Creative Enterprises (Entrepreneurship). The ProStart students will participate in the NC ProStart Invitational (NCPI) on February 25th–27th, 2017. This competition, for both culinary and management teams, determines state representatives to the International ProStart Invitational in Rhode Island later in the spring. The top 5 teams receive scholarships and the first-place teams go on to represent NC at the national event. There are two areas of competition: Management and Culinary.

“In the Management Competition, students must create a restaurant concept using demographics for a fictional town, ProStartville. The competition requires written reports, advertisements, flow charts, staffing and menu development along with verbal presentations to 5 groups of judges. The Culinary Competition involves students creating a 3-course meal in an hour. They are judged on everything—knife skills, presentation, teamwork, culinary skills, timeliness, sanitation, artistry and much more. Teams must also plan out in advance and bring to the competition all tools, spices, food etc.,” Nancy commented.

This year’s competition will be held at Johnson & Wales campus in downtown Charlotte, NC. It is a three-day event.

“We are looking for team sponsors to help Chef Billings offset the cost of the food for practice because students will make their dishes many times between now and February. Other expenses include travel expenses, uniforms (all management and culinary team members must wear identical clothing and shoes) along with miscellaneous equipment, like hand trucks, coolers, and storage bins. We have to roll everything into the event space, set up and then pack up and roll it back out. This is an important part of practice, too,” stated Nancy.

Both culinary and management teams attended a day-long “Bootcamp” at Johnson & Wales on November 3rd. The Management team students had a day-long brainstorming, marketing, advertising and demographics training session with corporate representatives from chain restaurants, such as Longhorn Steakhouse, and independent advertising and marketing consultants from the Charlotte area. Students participating in the Culinary team training had a lot on their “plates.”

“The Culinary students participated in 2 sessions, a dessert plating training session focused on sauces and presentation. If you ever wonder how those dots, swirls, swipes and shapes appear so perfect on your plate—that is what students earned to do during the morning session. The focus was on original designs and they had a lot of tasty practice with 4 sauces, chocolate cake and spoons. After lunch, the main dish session focused on following recipes, knife skills, and actual cooking skills. Students made a chicken and tomato sauté and practiced receiving feedback from the head chef, by saying, ‘Yes, Chef,’ often,” Nancy said.

No doubt that ProStart students gain a new perspective on catering and restaurant management, helping them in planning for a future in the industry. Rising WSFCS 9th-grade students who are interested in attending the ProStart Academy at John F. Kennedy High School in the fall of 2018 should apply online at during the Magnet Schools’ application period, January 1st–23rd, 2018. Tours are available by contacting the school, 336.703.4143,, or Nancy Harris,