By Peter Vankevich
Island business owners are teaching their trades to the younger generation under Ocracoke School’s work-study program.
Stacey O’Neal, a junior, is working at the Graceful Bakery making fresh-baked cakes.
An honor roll student, Stacey first learned the retail side last summer.
She and Lauren Strohl, bakery owner, got along so well that Stacey branched into baking cakes this summer, dubbing her venture “Cakes by Stacey.”
“I’ve always liked baking,” she said about why she chose to intern for about seven hours a week at Graceful Bakery, a food truck along Back Road.
Learning to bake will help prepare her for future studies since she would like to study culinary arts after she graduates from high school. She t also is learning the fine art of decorating, including lettering.
She had an opportunity to show her skills when she prepared a cake for
SistaWrite, a writer’s group brought to the island by acclaimed North Carolina writer Jaki Shelton Green. At a dinner hosted by the Ocracoke Observer, the group was touched by the special cake Stacey had prepared for them.
The work-study program is modeled under guidelines established by the North Carolina Department of Public
Instruction where students participate in the daily operations of a work site under the direct supervision of a business mentor.
Their website states that students should learn about a particular industry or occupation and apply knowledge and skills they learn in the classroom. The work experience should contribute to the student’s career pathway helping the student to narrow their career choices.
Mary McKnight, the school’s guidance counselor, said the program started in 2012 and has since grown.
“It’s usually only available to 11th and 12th-graders,” she said, “but we currently have a 10th-grader who is participating. The mentors do provide some sort of compensation for the students’ work and the students receive a credit here at the school.”
Stacey said her favorite class is math, and applying fractions to the precise measurements for ingredients has really helped her.
“I am thrilled to have Stacey at the bakery,” Strohl said. “She is a talented baker, and a dedicated employee. I am honored that she chose to do her Work Study program with the bakery, and am excited about the opportunities this experience will create for her.” Strohl said Stacey is helping this month as Graceful Bakery is open and will take special orders for breads, cakes and other baked goods for Thanksgiving.
McKnight also thinks highly of this opportunity for students to learn about a business and not be just an employee.
“It’s very beneficial to our students and our community,” she said. “First of all, it connects the school with the community and that is always important. Second, these students are trying to figure out what careers might be good for them.”
McKnight is grateful to all the businesses that have agreed to be part of this program and be mentors in the students’ lives.
“It truly expands the walls of this school to the whole community,” she added.
Other students participating in the work-study program include Evin Caswell at Jason’s Restaurant,; Brandon O’Neal at the Ocracoke Bar & Grille and the Gas Station; Kevin Perez at Jimmy’s Auto Garage; Aldo Serrano with Jason Daniel’s at Daniels’sign studio; Caroline Temple at the Fish House; Karen Perez at La Brisa and Iris Trejo at Halo Hair Studio.