Monday, May 3, 2010

Chatting with FENI's 2010 Secondary Educator of the Year Ana Plana

Editor's note: A portion of the following interview was featured in the "Meet FENI's Educators of the Year" article (pages 12 and 13) that appeared in the FENI wrap-up section of the Summer 2010 issue of Chef Educator Today.

Chef Ana Plana, culinary arts teacher at Maritime and Science Technology (MAST) Academy in Key Biscayne, Fla., is the 2010 Foodservice Educators Network International (FENI) Secondary Educator of the Year. Plana has been teaching ninth through 12th graders at MAST Academy since 2007. Here, she talks with CET about some of her accomplishments and goals.

FENI executive director Daniel von Rabenau presents chef Ana Plana with a plaque during the FENI Summit in February*

CET: Tell me about your work as the school's only food production and event-planning instructor. You and your students cater most of the school's events, right?
Plana: Our school is in Key Biscayne so it's right on the water. The back of the school has a beautiful view of downtown Miami, so many people in the district like to have meetings there. The rotary club will have their annual breakfast at our school, or we'll help with senior awards night or the junior class ring ceremony. So they'll come and ask if we can do the event and my event-planning class will interview whoever is trying to coordinate the event. My students will ask, "What do you need? How many people? What's your budget?" And then my event-planning class will create a menu, staff the kitchen and front of house for the event, and based on that, they'll get a grade for their menu. I'll give them extra credit or community service hours when the events are after school at night or really early in the morning.

CET: How does the event-planning class help prepare students for their careers?
Plana: The first few classes they don't really know what to do, so I'm their mentor, I'm their guide. But soon after that, I really like them to figure it out. If something is not working, I like them to problem-solve. For example, if the coffee maker is not working, what should we do? The easiest thing is to ask Ms. Plana what to do. But then I throw it right back at them and ask, "What are our options? What can we do?" Because even if only a small percentage of the students go to culinary school, they'll all need to know leadership and problem-solving and critical thinking. That's important. These things happen all the time in catering and the food world so you have to be able to think quick on your toes.

CET: How did you get the grant from Slow Food to launch the organic garden at MAST? Why is this important to you?
Plana: That was a contact that I have as part of Les Dames d'Escoffier [International]. She is one of the founding members of Slow Food. At one of our meetings she was talking about this organic garden she was providing for a school, then I approached her and asked what I would need to do to have that for our students. And I wrote a letter requesting a grant, and we got it. Having the organic garden is great because, for example, this week we are doing fresh pasta. And [the students] went out to the garden and pulled the basil, and we made pesto. We also had carrots, fresh tomatoes, arugula and mixed greens that were ready, so we had a fresh salad. They made fresh raviolis, and they julienned the basil and did a garlic-butter sauce. It's really cool because they put the seeds in, and now they're pulling the carrots!

CET: You've worked in many different capacities within the foodservice industry. What is most gratifying about teaching culinary students? Do you keep in touch with them after they leave?
Plana: I never thought I'd be a teacher, ever. And it is just so rewarding to see them grasp different things. Sometimes we take it for granted how to cook and prepare food. It is so cool to see them learn how things work and know that I had a part in that.

One of my [former] students takes care of my younger son in after-care at his school. She asked me for a letter of recommendation when she graduated. I sent it to her, and the school hired her. Now she watches my son there! And I have her sister now in class, which is cool. This year, I have three students going into culinary arts, so it's exciting to see that they want to take that path. They've been fortunate enough to get a lot of grants and scholarships. A lot of them thought they couldn't afford to go to Johnson & Wales [University], but they're getting the support to make it happen.

CET: How did it feel to win FENI Secondary Educator of the Year? How will this award help you in your own growth and career development?
Plana: That night when they called me up to accept the award, I was in awe. I couldn't believe I was up there in front of all these people who were so talented, and I got picked. And I couldn't say anything! I have [the plaque] in my classroom to show all my students that even at my age you can keep trying to improve and make a difference.

We go to a lot of different conferences and meetings during the year, but I definitely want to keep going to the FENI Summit because this one in particular I found to be very helpful. I am still a relatively new teacher--just three years in--and I learned so much about how you can express how to do something in so many different ways. I want to make sure I keep getting funds from our school through Pell grants or Perkins because it is important that they send us every year because it is so beneficial.

CET: What's next for you? Don't you want to start doing student competitions at MAST?
Plana: This June, my portfolio is due for my permanent [teaching] certificate. After that, I will be hoping to get my master's in teaching. The rules have changed and they want you to have a master's to teach dual enrollment. And then funding is a big problem in Dade County, so I'm trying to see next year if they'll let me go back to having [Family Career and Community Leaders of America]. So hopefully next year, they'll let me put it back on and then we can start doing competitions so students can win scholarship money.

*Photo courtesy of Eric Futran

No comments: