• Middle College Culinary arts lab

    Spring 2015 marks the first semester Middle College began offering the Culinary Arts pathway.

  • Middle College Culinary arts lab

    An athlete, Eric Hotchkiss would love to someday play pro football. But he’s always had a back-up plan of becoming a professional cook.

  • Middle College Culinary arts lab

    Students in the Culinary Arts program work on completing five courses toward their Associate in Applied Science 2-year degree.

  • Middle College Culinary arts lab

    On Thursdays, the class meets at FEED Kitchens for their 12:30-5:00 p.m. cooking lab.

  • Middle College Culinary arts lab

    Middle College offers a hands-on approach to learning.

  • Middle College Culinary arts lab

    Hotchkiss prepares for a project that involves being interviewed.

Lunch just ended and La Follette High School junior Eric Hotchkiss is leaving campus for the day. He’s not headed home or to hang out with friends; this 16-year-old is going to college.

Madison Metropolitan School District partners with the Workforce Development Board to deliver Middle College, a program to re-engage students in school through dual credit and internship opportunities.

Hotchkiss is a culinary arts student at Middle College, a dual-credit career pathway program for high school juniors with hopes of advancing their education in one of three industries: healthcare, manufacturing or culinary arts. 

Here he’s earning credits toward an associate’s degree, and if all goes as planned, he’ll graduate high school in 2016 with five courses completed toward an Associate in Applied Science 2-year degree and a full scholarship to finish it at Madison College.

After his morning high school courses, Hotchkiss rides a taxi to his afternoon classes at the Madison College Truax campus, one of a handful of technical college campuses that host the Middle College program. On Thursdays, he trades his books and assignments for his chef’s beanie and apron and meets his classmates at the northside’s FEED Kitchens for his 12:30-5:00 p.m. cooking lab.

Making school more meaningful 

“Why do I need to learn this?” That’s one question high school teachers hear over and over from students disengaged with the traditional school setting. Middle College offers a refreshing change of pace, with a hands-on approach to learning and a tangible goal to work toward — a career.

Madison Metropolitan School District is one partner, in addition to Madison College, Moraine Park Technical College and other school districts, that collaborates with the Workforce Development Board of South Central Wisconsin (WDBSCW) to offer the Middle College program. The goal: to re-engage students like Hotchkiss in school.

Freshman year was kind of rough,” Hotchkiss admits. “It was kind of up and down. I was going through some things. Then sophomore year I started maturing more.” Now, after a few months at Middle College, he’s “doing pretty good.”

Middle College started in 2009 with 70 juniors. All but 16 continued in the program the next year. Annually, each Middle College pathway accepts 12 to 15 students, who qualify based on income eligibility, family size and a unique blend of a growing detachment from school and a not-yet-extinguished desire to learn.   

A willingness to learn and seize opportunities

Tiajuana Rice, WDBSCW Director of Programs, stresses that not every student who has an aversion to homework or daydreams during class is a good candidate for the program. To succeed here, it takes “a willingness to learn” and to “take advantage of opportunity,” she notes.

Both Hotchkiss and his mother were convinced the program was a good match. At orientation, he learned that “It would help us get a good job. We’d be working and doing schoolwork at the same time, and we’d be getting our degree,” he says. “My mom was pretty excited when she heard I got accepted. She thought it was actually a good thing for me to do.”

A passion for football, cooking

Of the three career pathways that Middle College offers, Hotchkiss lept at the chance to be among the first group of students in the culinary arts career pathway, now in its inaugural semester. “I like to cook a lot, so I thought it would be a good idea. I cook a lot at home with my mom,” he says, helping prepare meals for his two younger siblings, ages 3 and 7. 

A young man of many pursuits both in and out of the kitchen, including wrestling, basketball and football, Hotchkiss has dreamed of playing professional football since sixth grade. However, he says, with a stroke of maturity that belies his young age, he has always had a “back-up plan” of becoming a professional cook.

This summer he’ll get his start with an internship, working in a kitchen for 20 to 30 hours for 8 or 9 weeks, paid for by the WDBSCW. Tiajuana Rice explains, “The program incorporates work readiness through summer work experiences. Students apply their skills and gain industry and career pathway exposure during paid work experiences with local companies that serve as worksite hosts,” mentoring the students.

Graduating high school ready for college, career and community

To be clear, the goal of Middle College isn’t simply to groom students to enter and succeed in the workforce with a career. “We stress the importance of academics,” Rice says. “We want to make sure that students are on track to graduate from high school” and encourage them to see possibilities and pursue lifelong learning opportunities.

Technical college can open so many doors. “There is this view of technical college, that it’s not in the same playing field as 4-year college. We need to change that view. There is nothing wrong with technical college education.” She considers Middle College a bridge to a technical college education. That, in turn, can be a bridge to a 4-year university program, Although, she points out, that’s not the right path for everyone.

Since enrolling in Middle College, Hotchkiss has noticed he’s more organized and can keep up with the rigorous notetaking expected in at this level. Overall, he’s become more engaged, taking special pride in “getting all my work done on time, being on time to class and participating more.”

Aspiring Entrepreneur

Back at La Follette, the last bell is ringing and Hotchkiss’ friends are starting their after school sports and clubs. What do they think about his double life as a college student? “They try to make jokes about it,” he laughs. “But it’s getting me somewhere in life.”

Someday he even hopes to open a restaurant. “Coming out of this program, I think I can run my own business, have my own restaurant, and just build up from that,” he says. But don’t start making dinner plans yet — you might not find it in the local dining guide. “I’ve always wanted to travel. To go somewhere far.”

April 2015