High school program focuses on serving others
A dessert tray balanced on one open palm and paper napkins in the other, Stall High School senior Ryan Vaughns was a little uneasy Tuesday milling about a crowd of dignitaries at Charleston Grill.
“I was nervous, but then I realized I’ve got to get used to it,” he said.
Ryan is one of 48 students at four Charleston County high schools participating in Teach the Need, a new program that prepares students for hospitality jobs. Other schools are Garrett Academy and Burke and North Charleston high schools, and plans are to eventually expand the district-backed program to all county high schools.
The brainchild of Charleston Grill manager Mickey Bakst and Michael Miller, a small business owner and community volunteer, the six-week program teaches students skills needed to work in the food and beverage industry.
On Tuesday some of those students put their skills to work to bring attention to the program at a reception that included Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, school board members and others.
“It’s becoming harder than ever for high school graduates who aren’t planning on attending college to find employment,” said Bakst, who has worked in hospitality for 40 years.
It’s also harder for restaurants to find good employees, he said. “Teach the Need is going to get these kids ready for an alternative to college,” Bakst said. “Our job is to train them not just in the skills needed to work in a restaurant but in the skills needed to be successful in life.”
Miller said some schools already have hospitality programs, but he envisioned something a little different for Teach the Need. “I wanted to find a way to get students involved in hospitality, but more so in the front of the house, not in the kitchen washing dishes,” he said.
School District Associate Superintendent Lou Martin said the program is “a perfect example of what happens when business and education come together for a specific purpose.”
The program is different from other school culinary programs because “the students are being trained by successful businessmen and women,” he said.
The classes are taught by Charlie Chance, owner of Red Drum; Johnny Williams, general manager of 82 Queen; Tim Willard, a server at FIG; and Bryan Austin, a server at Charleston Grill. Other volunteers provided uniforms and equipment.
Once a week since Sept. 10, the students have attended class in a mock restaurant setting, where they learned to tie a tie, hold a serving tray, set a table, clear a table and more.
“This program has really gotten their attention,” said Danny Ilagan, who oversees the program for Stall. “The students have loved it and it’s been great. It has really helped their self-confidence.”
Willard, who teaches the program at Stall, said the program has been presented as if it were a job, with students expected to be punctual and prepared.
“At the end, I want to be able to put my name on every kid and say, ‘I would hire this person,’?” he said.
The participants will graduate Dec. 8, and the aim is to find all of them a job, Bakst said.
“Our goal is to place every student in a restaurant,” Bakst said. “That is our promise to the community.”
Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or www.facebook.com/brindge.