Friday, March 21, 2014

Oregon chocolate festival seduces, charms, excites, aids students


Ame and James Beard are co-owners of Sweet Thang chocolates, gifts.

BY DAY, she's a school principal, working with low-income kids to boost their self esteem, encouraging them to stay in school and plan productive lives.
By night and weekends, she's a chocolate wizard, inventing new recipes for truffles, making cookies with the age old ingredient worshipped by millions.
AMETHYST BEARD, called Ame for short, loves her students even more than she loves chocolate.  She's merged her two passions in a single endeavor.
Recently, as principal and superintendent of Network Charter School in Eugene, Oregon, Beard cooked up a plan to bring six students to the Oregon Chocolate Festival. They helped set up and man a booth at the sponsoring Ashland Springs Hotel.  The endeavor won "best of show" in this theater driven town.

Ame Beard wears two hats -- school principal and chocolate
maker. Here, she shares samples with chocolate lovers at
Ashland Springs Hotel's 10th annual Oregon Chocolate Festival.
THE STUDENTS  are an engaging group, aged 15 to 17, selected for the festival for exceptional performance. Culinary teacher Evan Woodward considered their work ethic, ability, and teamwork skills, drawing on his experience as a businessman and professional chef. Woodward owns his own popular restaurant, Porcellino Bistro, in Eugene.
The school's 120 students range from grade seven to twelve. As chosen "chocolate helpers" from the culinary class, their festival banner proclaimed "Le Petit Gourmet," from the Culinary Arts Program.
The enterprise in Ashland represents only part of the school's ambitious training program.

Ame Beard, center, cooked up a program to help students segue into life.
Flanking her are culinary students Anakin Banker and Makayla Elliot.

THE CLASS also shares its talents with school mates, teachers and staff. "Each day the class prepares nutritious and pretty whole-foods meals," says Beard, "In the morning, they fix delicious breakfasts.  By noon, they've prepared lunch for the entire staff and student body.  It's a huge hit."

THE STUDENTS are learning everything needed to succeed in life beyond the school halls, in pursuit of worthy vocational careers.
The 10th annual Oregon Chocolate Festival is the brainstorm and pet project of the hotel's director of sales and marketing, Karolina Wyszynska.  She welcomed the project to her lively and innovative festival.
THE BELOVED, historic hotel was a perfect
The chocolate festival also offered hats, earrings, crafts.
setting for the kids to hone skills. People were in a festive mood as they tasted chocolate and shopped for specialty gifts, appreciating the variety and treats at the booths and taking time to commend Beard and the students for their enterprise. "We work on entrepreneurial skills, production line skills, customer service engagement, punctuality, taking direction gracefully," says Beard. All that came into play at the festival, plus preparation and budgeting for costs, materials and time.
"MY IDEA is to prepare them for whatever lies ahead -- whether it be college, owning a small business or being a useful, proud employee," says Beard.  Her husband and business partner, James Beard, is also a "chocolate moonlighter" and, says his wife, "super dad."  His day job is as a University of Oregon computer programmer.
At the 2014 Chocolate Festival, the Beards' unique student booth got plenty of accolades.
The Beards have developed
a unique student program.
"MANY OF THESE kids come from challenging backgrounds, so I'm really proud," says Beard. Her school has among the highest combined poverty and disabled rates in Oregon, so the program gives kids a leg up.
It's a mutual admiration society.  The respect of students for principal and vice versa shines through.
Keller and Cookie prepare to enjoy a chocolate dinner.

"THE SKILLS they're sharpening outside class are   critical," says Beard. "Even though we would like to see our students attend higher education, many will become either employees or entrepreneurs. The skills displayed at the chocolate festival are immensely useful outside a regular school setting."  She points out that the festival booth incorporated math, English and science skills, applied to actual, real life situations.
Artwork from chocolate.

THE CLASSroom also helps in the grooming.  "If a student is late, he or she could lose her position in class. "I'm trying to teach cause and effect, responsibility, consequence," says Beard. "They realize that being tardy in the work world can jeopardize a job."
THE KIDS learn to work together, to co-operate and compromise, to act professionally even if they don't particularly like everyone they encounter.
"They also learn economics, to be wise with materials," she says. "If they make a product they cannot sell, they learn how waste impacts their business model and their budget," says Beard. "They were wonderful at the festival," she said, reflecting. "They were great with the public, interacting, using their skills, gaining confidence," she said. "This speaks highly of their maturity and drive."

IT ALSO speaks highly of their creative and caring principal.

Jacksonville: lively yet peaceful southern Oregon town.

COMING UP:  Jacksonville, Oregon, is a charming throwback to another era.  Especially in spring, the picturesque town is a gem to discover on a road trip. The entire village is on the historical register.  Remember to explore, learn and live, and check us out Wednesdays and weekends.
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