Students with learning disabilities can find a rewarding and captivating career in foodservice.

Learning Disabilities Shouldn’t Restrict Students from Cooking Careers

When it comes to students with learning disabilities, how do we break through the barriers of traditional education? Think of it as a plan for the future. Many of the students who attend The Culinary Institute of America disclose certain conditions, such as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, and it’s up to us to make sure they still receive the proper educational tools to thrive in this industry.

Currently, we’re working on finding a way to do so without skipping a beat, or singling out the students who simply learn differently than others. It’s part of a small pilot group we’re calling Access for Success, where faculty have volunteered to train very specifically on strategies they can implement in their classrooms for this exact concern. The umbrella theme is Universal Design Learning, which takes into account all different kinds of learners in one sweeping curriculum. You have the “what,” “how,” and “why” of learning, or the recognition, strategic, and affective networks. Basically, the idea here is to teach students in a way where everyone will have a chance to succeed.

Everything we’re discussing leads to the future. There is a reason many students with learning disabilities find a calling in the culinary sector. It’s not uncommon to see someone sort out his or her options during high school and discover a fitting path. That can happen when, say, a student took a culinary course and realized he enjoys this craft, and, not to mention, learns better when there’s a tangible result, or through direct experience. The hands-on, gratifying nature of the restaurant industry appeals to some in a way that a lecture-based environment wouldn’t. And there’s a certain chaotic nature in the kitchen that fits a high-energy personality perfectly. Think of the student who has trouble sitting quietly and who tends to fidget. They’re going to respond well to activity; or when someone’s attention span is shorter, it helps to work quickly, and move from one task to the next, as opposed to trying to fit into a cubicle or an office. As you can see, a restaurant can be an ideal landing spot for many of these traits. There are often multiple stations and multiple clients that can keep an employee engrossed and productive. And the fact is, if you’re doing well, you’re going to be fully engaged.

Just like with education, it’s important to start with a conversation. If a young employee is hired at a restaurant, he is likely to be more successful when there’s a direct and achievable goal. For instance, if he is a high-energy person, it could help telling a manager. This way, the new employee can be placed in an arena that’s an ideal fit. It’s not always that simple, but it can be a good place to start. It’s also important for us as educators to keep learning. The students walking into our classrooms are different learners than they were 10 or 15 years ago. We need to constantly train ourselves to adapt. What we’re really looking at it is combining and blending these different methods so that we make sure we’re reaching those students who could potentially be struggling in class. Do we see them learning in a stronger way than before? That’s what we’re hoping for. Our expected outcome is that we will continue to see improvement, and in turn, broaden our ability to assist the soon-to-be restaurant employees of the future reach their goals.

Carolyn Tragni is the dean of academic engagement and administration at The Culinary Institute of America. She is responsible for the Conrad N. Hilton Library, Learning Strategies Center, Publishing Department, and Career Services.