The hustle and bustle of a kitchen is not for everyone.
The early morning prep work without end, working in a hot environment and serving hundreds of people is not easy work and it takes passion to do it over the summer.
The Charleston County School District offers a variety of internship opportunities in different departments for aspiring seniors. Nicholas Coakley, a senior in the Wando Culinary Arts Program, spent his summers in various cafeterias and offices working with the district to provide food and nutrition services. After USDA policy eliminated free lunches for all students, Coakley and his team planned events for families to get information and jump-start on the application and the free and discounted lunch program.
At these events, they were able to distribute boxes of groceries to families with the help of other groups like LowCountry Food Bank and Culinary Arts. Grocery boxes for families contained canned goods and recipes, but these events also featured interviews and applications for district nutrition service positions.
“The things we do in the kitchen, like learning how to properly cook certain foods like chicken, that plays into when I go to the cafeteria to prepare meals. I know how to properly cook things that don’t make people sick,” Coakley said.
Coakley was able to apply skills he’d learned in the classroom over the summer and gained hands-on experience preparing meals for larger groups. In class, Coakley learned how to work in a professional kitchen and honed his organizing and cleaning skills. Keeping the workspace clean and organized will help him save time once he has started the whole cooking process.
Suzanne Cottingham works in the Charleston County School District’s Nutrition Service, helping over 90 schools throughout the year. She was the mentor during this internship and saw first hand the impact these events had on the students and the community.
“We have families, parents that we are trying to recruit. It gives them a salary, gives them some job skills, while being able to walk to work, especially with rising gas prices and some people who don’t have transportation, it gives them the opportunity to build a career in nutrition services ,” Cottingham said.
Food and reduced lunch events are not the only things that made this internship special. The interns were able to earn their Serve Safe certification, gain experience with over 200 children at various summer camps such as the SMART camp, and get a behind-the-scenes look at nutritional services. The interns were able to explore different parts of the job, from marketing and promotional events, to simple work in the kitchen and learning the technical side of nutritional services, to learning how to order supplies and business management skills.
“I’m a chef major, I love to cook… It’s easy to know that everything lives in the kitchen. I work really hard in the kitchen and then I get to enjoy it and it comes out the way I want it to, it’s really rewarding,” said Coakley.
Coakley hopes to bring kiosks and a variety of foods back to the Wando cafeteria. While still adhering to dietary guidelines for what’s allowed in school lunches, ideas for refrigerated vending machines, make-your-own salad stations and a dessert bar are being considered. For the future, he hopes to own a restaurant and become a business owner, and his summer internship has only made him more certain of what he wants.
Traysea Smith, a consultant at the East Cooper Center for Advanced Studies, often helps find students for various internships throughout the Lowcountry. Internships allow students to explore a career cluster that they may be interested in. After attending courses or a specific program, an internship gives them the opportunity to gain work experience and helps them to learn more about their passions or interests.
“It allows students to learn more about a chosen career path through hands-on learning. It allows them to apply what they may have learned in the classroom to jobsite or field-related experiences and thus learn in a hands-on way. They apply those lessons to the workplace,” Smith said.
Completing an internship during high school can help a student decide if a chosen career path is right for them. Wando and ECCAS Counselors have a range of positions available for students including Sports Medicine, Cooking and Nutrition Services, Civil Engineering and more. More importantly, internships help build connections within the community.
“You meet people, you meet other kids, other schools throughout Charleston County. It was really cool to just be able to connect with other students from other schools that you don’t normally go to school with,” Coakley said. “You bond with people, and I still speak to the people I’ve worked with to this day.”