Sound lessons: HFM BOCES programs teaching more than just practical skills

HFM students Gary Burns, left, and Josiah Boston film students Jade Orapello, Colleen Chest, and Elizabeth Gonzalez Friday, March 4, 2022.
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HFM students Gary Burns, left, and Josiah Boston film students Jade Orapello, Colleen Chest, and Elizabeth Gonzalez Friday, March 4, 2022.

If Yariel Espinet, an Amsterdam High School junior, ever opens the Mexican restaurant he dreams about, he may very well put chicken soup on the menu.

Sure, chicken soup isn’t a traditional Mexican dish, but it’s Espinet’s favorite dish of all the recipes he’s made so far during his first year at the Hamilton Fulton Montgomery BOCES Culinary Arts program.

Plus, serving chicken soup at a Mexican restaurant would reinforce the multicultural message that the students have been focusing on during their most recent project.

The 22 high school juniors in the culinary program are partnering with the roughly 40 juniors in the HFM BOCES Digital Multimedia program to make commercials that reinforce the importance of diversity. The culinary students came up with the restaurant idea and the multimedia students helped them produce the commercials–from script writing to filming to editing.

The project is just a small part of the HFM BOCES Career and Technical Education center, where high school juniors and seniors from around the region learn career skills and life lessons away from their school districts. Programs include cosmetology, criminal justice, environmental conservation and skilled trades like plumbing.

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“Yes, I want them to be culinarians, but it’s not necessarily important,” said Todd Harper, the culinary instructor at HFM BOCES. “We’re teaching the life skills of working on a budget, working as a team, knowing how to work with customers, building a resume and interview skills. We’re teaching these life skills that we all need.”

Harper’s own 26-year career in the restaurant industry started at the Capital Region BOCES facility in Albany.

“When I went to college my freshman year, I was well ahead of the other students,” Harper said. Before starting as the culinary instructor at HFM BOCES in November 2020, Harper’s career included cooking for local restaurants, corporate chains, at Marriott Hotels, college dining halls and at a senior living center. “Knowing all the cooking techniques, knife skills, food safety–folks coming out of high school, they didn’t have that experience.”

The HFM BOCES students say they appreciate the practical skills they are getting from spending about half of every school day at the HFM BOCES facility in the Town of Johnstown. Juniors come in the mornings, seniors come in the afternoon. Students in the Digital Multimedia program study everything from graphic arts and photography to advertising and animation. They also work with real companies and organizations in the community, like Nathan Littauer Hospital and Alpin Haus RV, to produce real commercials.

Shawn Majewski, a junior at Fonda-Fultonville, hopes to embark on a career in film editing. At HFM BOCES, he’s been involved in hands-on projects that have given him the chance to use the same kinds of tools he will use once he enters the industry as a professional.

“I chose this path because it is something I want to pursue in my near future,” Majewski said. “It gives me more in-depth analysis about each of the softwares I like to use.”

Phil Schuyler, who has been teaching in the Digital Multimedia program for 15 years, said a major component is giving the high school students access to professional equipment, be it a boom microphone or sound-editing software. Schuyler even works with industry professionals to make sure the facilities and curriculum at HFM BOCES match current workplace standards.

“We are trying to prepare kids for college or their career path, so we have to have what they are going to be using when they leave the school,” Schuyler said. “So if the industry is using Apple and Adobe, that’s what we have.”

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The focus on the practical pays off in the real world, Schuyler said. For instance, he had a student recently who came into the program knowing he wanted to work for his family’s lumber company. The student’s goal was to learn how to create a professional website. And that’s exactly what he learned, developing a website for the family’s business. It was so professional that the next year the former student heard from someone in Japan who needed wood because of a lumber shortage.

“He created a website, and all of a sudden his family was selling wood from Edinburg, New York, to Japan. All because of his website,” Schuyler said.

Of course, the intangibles are important, too. In fact, the more esoteric lessons are often baked into the curriculum. For example, a project like the restaurant commercials teaches the physical video production and sound editing skills required to produce an ad spot alongside lessons about inclusion.

“When you get out in the business you are going to have a multicultural, diverse workplace and you’re going to need to learn how to work in that, so I think it’s essential,” Harper said. “And it makes you a better manager having that experience with diversity, as well. It makes you a better leader.”

For students like Espinet, the project is helping to reinforce his beliefs.

“We’re all the same,” Espinet said. “It’s just we have different takes on foods, and that’s what we like. We like everybody to have different takes.”

Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.

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