Tricounty News

Levinski gets Prostart Award

Mary Levinski, Kimball Area High School graduate and former Kimball high school teacher, was recently selected as the Minnesota 2008 ProStart Educator Excellence Award recipient. Betty Fisk, ProStart coordinator for Hospitality Minnesota Education Foundation, nominated Mary for the award, and sings her praises. In a recent news release, Betty says, "Mary Levinski is a truly outstanding educator, and is a model for all other ProStart educators in Minnesota." Mary and her husband Steve will fly to Chicago in mid-May to attend the National Restaurant Association Solutions ProStart Educator Excellence awards, where she'll join award winners from 31 other states . Mary had no forewarning that she'd even been considered for the award. Recently, she received an e-mail, congratulating her on the honor. "I had no idea," she says. "It was a great surprise, and I'm very honored." She is pleased that teachers receive recognition for their commitment and hard work, and she is humbled by the experience. But Mary may never have become a teacher, if it hadn't been for her college application being misinterpreted. When she arrived for freshman orientation and registration, Mary discovered she wasn't enrolled, after all, in the curriculum she'd chosen, the food science program. Young Mary had spent 15 or 16 years in the 4-H program in her Kimball school days, "and I loved the food part of it," she says. Because of those experiences, she'd decided to become a food scientist. Instead of that curriculum, Mary had been placed in the Family and Consumer Sciences curriculum (formerly known as Home Economics). When she called the obvious mistake to the attention of college personnel, she was told that the food science program was full. To keep her scholarship, she went ahead with her new field of study, intending to transfer to her original major the following year. In the meantime, a couple of things changed her mind: student teaching and a great mentor. She loved the teaching field, and she was in it to stay. After graduation, Mary taught in Wisconsin for two years, then joined the University of Minnesota Extension and stayed five years. Following a year in Glencoe-Silver Lake's school system, Mary came home to Kimball, where she taught for six years. For the past eight years, she's taught at Sauk Rapids-Rice High School. Also eight years ago the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation inaugurated ProStart, their means of bringing awareness of opportunities in the hospitality industry to high school students looking for a sound career path. Three years ago, Minnesota came on board with the program. Now a total of 34 Minnesota schools offer the courses created by the restaurant association, while 1,600 teachers in 47 states and Guam teach the courses to approximately 60,000 students. Mary began teaching the career-building ProStart curriculum two years ago. That first year, 18 students enrolled; of them, four applied to culinary schools. In the second year, enrollment in Mary's classes ballooned to 103, and a handful of them have been accepted at Le Cordon Bleu and the Culinary Institute. It's obvious that Mary has transferred her twin loves of food and teaching to her students, using, according to Betty Fisk, " ... innovative methods and techniques to fuel her students' passion for the industry." Two examples of those methods include bringing chef mentors into the classroom, and taking her students on field trips to restaurants where they observe chefs at work. Next year, Mary hopes to take her students to a taste of Chicago. The curriculum Mary and other ProStart teachers use blends classroom training with on-site experience. Students who complete the two-year program are eligible to sit for two national exams. Demonstrating competencies in food service and working a minimum of 400 hours in a mentored work experience are additional criteria that earn the ProStart National Certificate of Achievement. The certificate puts them on the fast track to higher wages and management opportunities in food service jobs. Because of the program's standard of excellence, ProStart students also obtain college credit. "The opportunities these kids have been afforded amazes me," Mary says. In particular, she notes the scholarships available to them. ProStart Invitational Last week, Mary took a team of four students and one alternate to the ProStart Invitational held in San Diego. Her students had won the right to move to national competition when they won Minnesota's management competition. (Hopkins won for the state culinary competition, and also competed in San Diego.) More than 350 students from schools using the ProStart program attended. The top five winners in both the culinary and management competitions will win scholarships to culinary schools. It's the opportunity that Mary finds very rewarding for her students. Though the path she'd originally mapped out for herself was inadvertently but happily detoured, Mary Levinski shares her passion for the food world with her students, and makes her a deserving recipient of the award recently bestowed on her.