After receiving a highly competitive state grant, Escalon High School ag teacher Isabella Leventini is hard at work, putting together a new food science pathway for students on campus.
She applied for the secondary specialized program grant in October of 2020 – written by fellow ag teacher Kenny Saephan – and got word earlier this year it had been awarded.
“They only gave out seven in the state,” she said, adding that the award for Escalon amounted to close to $50,000 in funding.
The first year of the three-year grant will include completely gutting the woodshop on campus for renovations to host the food science classes; then there will be two years of curriculum. As part of the grant, Leventini will be writing that curriculum.
“It will be state of the art for food science,” she noted of the transformed woodshop, excited for the opportunity the new career pathway will provide for EHS students.
“As a department we are always looking at new ways to offer more opportunities for students,” she said.
Interest in the ag department and the various career paths has been growing “exponentially” over the past few years, she added.
The department staff – Leventini, Saephan and Gypsy Stark – looked at both food science and small engines classes when hoping to expand and then sought input from their advisory board regarding which direction to go.
“Especially in our area, food science is another sector that really needs students,” Leventini said in what factored in to the decision to pursue the food science pathway grant.
“There is a huge shortage of qualified people,” she said, pointing to a wide variety of career options with firms including Eckert Cold Storage, ConAgra, Heinz and more.
“Kids don’t necessarily know what food science is; don’t know what opportunities there are,” she said, with everything from quality control to product development among the options.
“The state is always sending us information (about grants) and Kenny usually writes all of our grants,” Leventini said.
During the first year of the grant, they are getting the classroom area prepped and Leventini is also writing the curriculum.
“You have to write two years, Food Science 1 and Food Science 2,” she explained, with the class beginning in the second year of the grant.
“I have grown up in ag, my dad works for a large chicken company,” Leventini added, so she feels comfortable guiding students in to the food science arena.
She said the state will actually own the curriculum once she writes it, something that is both a little daunting and a source of pride for the ag teacher.
“It will be the standard for any food science classes,” Leventini shared. “It could put our tiny little school on the map and this will be something brand new. Our students are just going to have so much more opportunity to be successful after high school.”
As projected, the first year class will have its focus on “basic scientific principles but through the lens of food” said Leventini, and is expected to qualify students for a life science credit.
“It would be a very hands on class, very experiment driven and students will gain some insight into possible careers with food science and technology,” she explained. “The second course, second year, would be more in depth on actual food processing, packaging, research and development, it will be more specific to food science industries.”
They also hope to work with local businesses that could bring students on board through internships, for some real life experience, on the job training. Leventini said the district will actively pursue agreements with local firms to get students that experience.
“The big push right now in CTE (Career Technical Education) is getting kids out to the workforce,” she said.
Career options can include a flavor chemist, nutritionist, food scientist ensuring food quality, even a mechanic within a food processing firm.
“That’s what I love about it,” Leventini said of the new curriculum, which can result in a variety of choices for students. “I am super excited, absolutely, and I think students will find this class very engaging.”