Gulfport High Cooking Up Plans For Culinary Arts Academy

Students who have a craving for a cold smoothie, or a hot cookie fresh out of the oven, come to "The Admiral's Galley" to satisfy their sweet tooth. The Galley was initially designed for special education students. Now, it involves all students who want hands-on experience in restaurant management and hospitality.

"If we don't know how to count money, then it can help us count money," said Freshman Tiffany Castrogiovanni. "And it helps us learn how to bake cookies, make smoothies, and work a cash register."

"The restaurant tourism industry is a thriving industry that's building on the Gulf Coast," said their teacher Nancy Branch. "I wanted to find a way for my students to access that industry, where they can get a job that pays well and has benefits and has a future."

Branch and Vocational Director David Fava are spearheading a drive to expand the "Admiral's Galley Project." They are working on plans to build a 9,000 square foot "Culinary Arts Academy" at Gulfport High. The small Admirals' Galley will become an Internet Cafe.

"The Internet Cafe will be a place where teachers can come in and do their lesson plans. They plug in their lap top and just get away from their classroom," Branch said.

A new "Admirals's Restaurant" will take up about 1,500 square feet of space. It will include a commercial kitchen, banquet hall, and a green house where students grow their own herbs. The facility will be able to serve daily meals to faculty and staff, and host special events at school or cater to customers in the community. Local chefs and business people will be invited to help train the students.

The "Admirals Quarters Gift Shop" will also move into the building. The store offers custom-made gift baskets, school spirit products and jewelry.

"We're going to be selling student artwork from the entire district, and we're just very excited about that," said teacher Helen Simpson.

Special education students will work alongside general students to run the businesses. Vo-Tech programs will be in charge of the management and bookkeeping.

"I'm excited. I can see the building. I can see me walking into it," Branch said. "I'm really happy for what it's going to do for our kids, kids of all levels, all abilities at Gulfport High. This is going to be a wonderful asset to our community."

Gulfport High must raise the money to build the academy. Right now, it's expected to cost at least $3 million. If funding is in place, the school hopes to open the academy in the fall of 2009. Teachers are currently seeking architects who can offer their services to design the building.