Christiana Care Health System has pioneered an innovative partnership to train the next generation of chefs while providing high school students with invaluable workplace experience.

The first cohort of three culinary arts students wrapped up a 10-week internship in April that exposed them to the full gamut of Christiana Care’s food services, including ordering supplies and preparing stock from basic ingredients.

Christiana Care partnered with the Colonial School District and Jobs for Delaware Graduates, a Dover-based nonprofit that prepares students for college and career.

The internship, which was unpaid, was conceived as a way to provide students with an opportunity to work in a real-world, high-stakes team setting, said Jeanana Lloyd, a talent adviser at Christiana Care.

Students from William Penn High School in New Castle learned “how working as a team player ultimately impacts the patient experience,” she said.

The internship expanded on the students’ culinary coursework and was also an opportunity to inculcate Christiana Care values, especially a professionalism borne of a respectful, effective team environment.

Jobs for Delaware Graduates intern Ibn Goldsborough takes a shift on the busy grill at the West End Cafe, Christiana Hospital.
Jobs for Delaware Graduates intern Ibn Goldsborough takes a shift on the busy grill at the West End Cafe at Christiana Hospital.

It was a lesson taken to heart for Ibn Goldsborough, one of the first three William Penn interns.

Once, as Goldsborough struggled to grill a sandwich, another chef, Danny Herbein, took notice and demonstrated a simpler method for chopping the meat.

“It let me know that even though the culinary world is very stressful and it seems like nobody has your back, it’s still a team,” Goldsborough said.

A broad-based curriculum

The internship’s curriculum, crafted to encompass a range of roles in Christiana Care’s food service operation, included work in cafeterias, where patients’ families and staff eat, as well as in patient kitchens.

Kip Poole, a William Penn instructor, said his students learned how to cater to patients’ dietary restrictions. In such cases, creativity takes a backseat to precision. No salt, to take one example, means no salt.

Part of the curriculum aimed to reinforce what are often called “soft skills,” a cluster of abilities that include interpersonal aptitude — such as teamwork and listening — alongside character traits like work ethic.

William Penn High School senior Tiabronna Cooper prepares sweet Italian sausage for supper on at the high-volume West End Cafe, Christiana Hospital.
William Penn High School senior Tiabronna Cooper prepares sweet Italian sausage for supper at the high-volume West End Cafe at Christiana Hospital.

Thanks to Jobs for Delaware Graduates, a senior at William Penn may already have three years of this training under his or her belt, said Laurie Fuski, a supervisor at the nonprofit organization whose classroom specialists teach a wide range of job, life and financial skills.

Among the soft skills these students were able to polish at Christiana Care was punctuality, said Andrew Snapp, an executive chef who has worked at Christiana Care for 25 years.

“They’d stroll in at five or 10 after,” he said. “It was a point I stressed from early on: Learn to be on time. They straightened up quickly about things like that.”

Indeed, Lloyd said she was proud of how well the students adapted to the rigors of a professional kitchen.

“They took feedback like an actual employee would. They adjusted, they were flexible, they appreciated the opportunity,” she said.

State Sen. Nicole Poore, Jobs for Delaware Graduates president, said she was thrilled to have found a partner in Christiana Care.

“The fact that they have taken an interest in offering our students an opportunity in the career pathway that they want to be in is amazing — it’s outstanding,” Poore said.

The nonprofit has helped more than 50,000 young people in its 37-year-history. Given the success at Christiana Care, Jobs for Delaware Graduates is looking to double the internship to 20 weeks and expand the number of students.

Meanwhile, the first students say the experience has reinforced their desire to work in the culinary arts.

“I think my mindset stayed the same or maybe even got stronger,” senior Tiabronna Cooper said. “I can make people feel better by preparing healthy food for them.”