Access to culinary arts degrees, aeroponic gardening part of expanded ACHE programs

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 1,293 views 

Editor’s note: This story is the second of what will be a series on the details and potential impact of the recent $32.3 million donation to the Fort Smith-based Arkansas Colleges of Health Education to create and expand numerous health research and wellness programs. Link here to the first story.

A partnership between Arkansas College of Health Education (ACHE) and Brightwater: A Center for the Study of Food will bring nutrition education and the opportunity for a degree in the culinary arts to many in and around Fort Smith.

A $32.3 million anonymous donation to the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education, announced June 22, will support a holistic approach to health and wellness and include partnerships with public schools, art centers, a community garden, and Brightwater, an academic department of NorthWest Arkansas Community College (NWACC).

The donation creates an endowment that will pay for staff, program costs and construction for the ACHE facility at 1000 Fianna Way. ACHE acquired the former Golden Living headquarters in 2020 for the purpose of housing a medical research facility and a health and wellness education center. Work on the five-story facility – now known as the ACHE Research Institute Health and Wellness Center – is underway and should be complete within two years,said Kyle Parker, president and CEO at ACHE.

Brightwater has signed an agreement with ACHE to create K-12 art integrated curriculums to focus on healthy nutrition. A center for the study of food, Brightwater provides holistic programming focused on changing the paradigm of culinary education and nutrition skills. ACHE and Brightwater are collaborating on a pilot study, Integrated Culinary Arts and Nutrition, taking place with Fort Smith Public Schools (FSPS). ACHE supported training sessions at Brightwater’s facility over the summer and funded classroom equipment.

In this fall semester, which began Monday (Aug. 16) teachers at Fairview, Cook, and Ballman elementary schools will begin teaching nutrition using mobile culinary teaching carts and Tower Gardens, an aeroponic indoor gardening system supplied by ACHE. Students will learn the impact of nutrition through gardening and cooking.

“The Fort Smith Public School district continually searches for ways to be innovative while meeting the individual needs of our students. The partnership with ACHE allows kindergarten students to experience an integration of culinary arts within the core standards,” said Martin Mahan, FSPS deputy superintendent. “This partnership will create excitement and relevance within the content, and it will have a lasting impact on our students’ nutrition, health and wellbeing. We are honored and excited about this partnership with ACHE.”

But nutrition and culinary education will not be limited to elementary students. Dr. Elizabeth McClain, chief wellness officer at ACHE, said individuals who are interested in studying culinary arts and food science will have opportunities to benefit from the ACHE/Brightwater partnership in multiple ways. High school students will be able to obtain an associate degree as well as a high school diploma through the collaboration, McClain said.

“Arkansas law allows for dual enrollment or concurrent credit, where high school students can enroll in college-level courses under certain conditions,” she said.

Formal agreements will be developed between Brightwater and interested schools in the area, including FSPS PEAK Innovation Center, to ensure programming at both high school and Brightwater campuses meet the Arkansas Department of Higher Education (ADHE) standards, McClain said.

“The collaboration between Arkansas Colleges of Health Education and the Peak Innovation Center supports the Fort Smith Public Schools Vision 2023 objectives and helps provide opportunities for students throughout the region to explore high-skill, in-demand careers in the health sciences and beyond. We are excited to have excellent community support and higher education partnerships that holistically support our students,” said Dr. Gary Udouj, director of career education and district innovation for FSPS.

Students will have the opportunity for dual enrollment in Brightwater, where they can obtain an associate degree and their high school diploma. Brightwater will offer technical and proficiency certificates in artisanal food (baking and culinary arts) for individuals interested in additional training skills training, but do not have the time or need for an academic degree. In addition, a traditional associate degree in food studies will be offered, McClain said.

“(The associate degree) graduates will benefit from Brightwater’s formal agreements with institutions of higher education where students will be able transfer degree credits and apply them to the completion of a four-year undergraduate degree,” she said.

ACHE/Brightwater also will offer community culinary arts outreach programs that will be open to the public, McClain said. These will include programs in ethnic cuisine and culinary arts, nutrition disease management/prevention, garden to table cuisine on a budget and more.
ACHE’s nutrition program diversity will provide opportunities for culinary art experiences that focus on preparing new nutritious cuisines, international meals, exposure to new healthy foods, and will include wine and beverage pairings. These programs will be available to individuals, community organizations and groups, such as corporate/employee groups, who want to experience creative options to improve their nutrition and health.

ACHE will work with organizations such as the United Way of Fort Smith, Antioch for Youth & Family and more to develop new programs that provide culturally diverse nutrition education and healthy cooking options that are inclusive to all members of the community.

The goal of the ACHE/Brightwater collaboration will be to engage all members of the community, McClain said. Input from community members and organizations will be used to develop outreach programs that meet the needs, whether those be access to health food, culinary knowledge or skills and confidence needed to create healthy meals, she said.

“We plan to listen and learn from the community and develop programming that is diverse and improves the lives of our community residents along with visitors from outside our community,” McClain said.

A key aspect of meeting those needs is ACHE’s partnership with the Center for Art and Education in Van Buren, which will provide the opportunity to expand ACHE’s reach for the arts including the culinary arts and nutrition.

“We look forward to working collaboratively on different culinary programs to provide greater community access to these opportunities,” McClain said.

The new CAE building at 415 E. Main St., in Van Buren, which should open in early 2022, will include a culinary kitchen designed for cooking and food prep classes for all ages.

“The Center for Arts Education shares core values with the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education around the benefits of the arts to all people. Communities are built on two elements – collaboration and creativity.  Building on these two elements, communities rich in the arts, art education and STEAM education programs, become thriving environments for growth, health and wellbeing,” said Jane Owen, CAE executive director.