CATEC Culinary Arts Director Bob Bressan (R) helps student Brandon Lamb make turkey gravy for CATEC's 12th annual Thanksgiving Fundraiser in 2013.

Two days before Thanksgiving, Bob Bressan was in the throes of organizing the Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center’s 12th annual Thanksgiving fundraiser. He was rattling off orders for walnut stuffing and ham biscuits, reminding students to take turkey gravy off the stove, and running pots and pans through the dishwasher.

“It’s organized chaos,” said Bressan, CATEC’S culinary arts director. “You have to look at it in pieces. If you look at the whole thing, even for me, it’s kind of frightening.”

This year’s feast offered a 22-item menu designed to feed about 170 families. It’s also an opportunity for real-world business experience for CATEC’S students.

The school’s curriculum is competency-based, and requires students to demonstrate proficiency of one concept before moving to the next. This style of learning paired with an event like the fundraiser, Bressan said, is a good match. 

Second-year student Mikala Dabney, who said her grandmother started teaching her to cook when Mikala was 4, took a break from rolling dough for biscuits and consulting with another student about the amount of egg in the pumpkin cheescake to explain what she likes about the CATEC program: it’s active learning.

“I like being hands-on,” Dabney said. “We have catering jobs and stuff to do and lots of things to make.”

The annual Thanksgiving project has fetched the Culinary Arts program as much as $8,000 in past years, and Bressan expects another good year in 2013. The funds allow second-year students to visit culinary arts programs and cultural centers, such as New York—experiences, Bressan said, that provide more real-world experience. In March, students will travel to the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vermont.

Bressan, a self-taught chef, learned the industry ropes in the early 1970’s by catering part-time as graduate student at the University of Virginia. As business picked up, however, he found himself running his own catering company.

Nearly 40 years later, CATEC Director Adam Hastings said Bressan’s leadership has lead to the Culinary Arts program’s success, and to engagement with prestigious schools like the Culinary Institute of America.

Despite the emphasis on career-readiness and money, Bressan said, the event reminds him to be grateful for other things.

“I’m thankful for a great place to work, my health, and for the students, who years down the road, we will see their success,” he said.

Local classrooms receive design award

The Virginia Schools Boards Association has honored Buford Middle School and Charlottesville-based VMDO Architects with a “gold” design award for their newly renovated science labs at the middle school. The project was one of five in the Commonwealth to receive the commendation.

The renovation modernized Buford’s four existing science classrooms into state-of-the-art labs that aim to help teach science concepts through the lens of engineering and advanced manufacturing technology, such as 3-D printing. The project also marks the start of the Commonwealth Engineering Design Academies, a laboratory school partnership with the University of Virginia’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, and the Curry School of Education.

“The Gold Design Award testifies, not only to the innovative architectural solution, but also to the critical importance of visionary leadership and effective collaboration,” VMDO architect Steve Davis, the project’s designer, said. “With the new Design Academy, the city has established a new standard for middle school STEM education.”

“When parents come to pick up their kids, they often swing by to see the labs,” Buford Principal Eric Johnson said. “Former students have come back from the high school, too — they want to see how nice it is.”