Work-study students compete in Cookbook Wars

Logan Cole

Work-study students compete in Cookbook Wars

by Andrea Bruner | Three Rivers Edition of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette December 22, 2019 

SOUTHSIDE — Cookbook Wars might sound like a show on the Food Network but is actually a competition among schools in Independence and surrounding counties.

Participants from 11 schools converged on Southside High School from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Dec. 4 to compete in Cookbook Wars, with the students creating a theme, a business plan, a budget and a finished product.

The students are part of a program called Career-to-Work Study, offered by Myers Davis Life Coaching. Jeanni Brosius, communications and public-relations director and career coach at Myers Davis, explained that the goals of the program are to teach communication, job and life skills; assist in finding jobs for students and help them maintain employment; and assist students in finding career paths and pointing them in the direction to reach those goals.

Myers Davis Life Coaching partners with Arkansas Rehabilitation Services to provide a Career-to-Work Study class in 11 high schools: Batesville, Cave City, Southside, White County Central, Cedar Ridge, Midland, Izard County, Hillcrest, Mammoth Spring, Melbourne and Highland.

The students began working on the cookbook project in October and finished with vision boards, cookbooks with original artwork, business and marketing plans, and a budget. The cookbooks were printed and bound upon completion, and students then developed their presentations.

Judges for the competition were Christy Lamas, Arkansas Rehabilitation Services deputy of field operations; Christina Clawson, Pre-Employment Transitions Services manager for ARS; and Demetrious Gully with the Division of Programs at Central Arkansas Disability Services.

Presentations were judged on various categories, and awards were given as follows:

• Best overall grand prize: Southside, which was the winning school, earned a large trophy and a pizza party.

• Most creative overall: Hillcrest.

• Best vocal presentation: Melbourne.

• Best teamwork: Highland.

• Best digital presentation: Batesville class B.

• Best recipe story/history: Batesville class A.

• Best business plan: Cedar Ridge.

• Best cheer: Izard County.

• Best vision board: Midland.

• Most original theme: White County Central — the theme was Tiny Tasty Treasures, which were tapaslike dishes.

• Most team spirit: Cave City.

• Best cookbook: Mammoth Spring.

“Some of the students who got up onstage for this competition stepped way outside of their comfort zone,” Brosius said. “A few of them had trouble talking in class but over time have gained the confidence to speak onstage in front of almost 200 people. That says a lot about this program.”

Destiny Ballard, a senior at Cave City High School, joined the class at the beginning of her junior year and said it has been a tremendous help.

She said she’s seen a lot of benefits, such as learning how to fill out job applications, overcome shyness in order to talk to one’s boss, manage money, work at someone else’s pace on the job and manage other life skills.

“Ms. Charity [White, who teaches at Batesville, Cave City and White County Central], is a great teacher,” Ballard said. “She goes out of her way to help us with things that most teachers wouldn’t because it’s not part of their job. She never was asked to do some things — she just does it out of the kindness of her heart.

“She helps us with our driver’s book and how to make doctor’s appointments, how to find houses, how to look for cars and find our perfect job after high school,” Ballard said. “That’s what I like most about this program — each one of them cares so much about us and always brightens our moods when we get to see them. … They always make us smile.”

Ballard said she worked on all aspects of the Cookbook Wars project, then took the lead in the presentation. She did the choreography and worked one on one with each team member until they were comfortable enough to perform onstage. Ballard was a cheerleader from seventh to 11th grade, so she had a lot of dance practice, but she had to quit cheer because of an injury, she said.

Ballard and her 18 other team members solicited recipes from family and friends, then self-published their cookbook. As part of their presentation about the process, seven students learned and performed a dance.

Ballard said she has always wanted to go to college but before taking the Career-to-Work class, she didn’t have any idea about how to enroll. She also said she isn’t sure what she’ll study yet, but she knows she wants to help others like her teachers have helped her.

“I’ve met some great teachers through this program and learned so much,” she said.

Other teachers employed by Myers Davis include Shani Kramer, Southside and Midland; Dianne Thomas, Melbourne and Hillcrest; Lesa Barnett, Mammoth Spring, Highland and Izard County; and Melinda Talley, Cedar Ridge.

Brosius said the Career-to-Work Study class began as a pilot program during the 2017-2018 school year with two schools and 10 students: five students from Southside and five from Cave City.

She added that the program has since expanded to

11 schools and 123 students, with Batesville having two classes.

The program is funded through Arkansas Rehabilitation Services and its Pre-Employment Transitions Services program, Brosius said. Myers Davis employs five teachers who travel to each school and teach the class during the regular school day.

To qualify for the Career-to-Work Study, Brosius said, students must be a junior or senior in high school; must have an IEP (Individualized Education Plan), 504 Plan and/or a medical diagnosis; and “must be willing and able to work.”

Angela Davis, president of Myers Davis Life Coaching, explained that the business wanted to incorporate all the nine components of the work-based learning Arkansas Rehabilitation Services.

“I knew I wanted to do a student-led enterprise, so we had a brainstorming meeting with our teachers and thought the cookbook would be the best way to incorporate those nine components,” Davis said.

The nine categories are paid work experience, service learning, student-led enterprise, simulated work experience, job shadowing, career mentorship, informational interview, work-based tour and field trip.

Brosius said students can work up to seven hours and are paid through ARS. Some students work on school campuses, while others work in the community.

Kramer said members of her class at Southside were very appreciative of winning the grand-prize award.

“It makes us feel great being rewarded for the hard work that we all put into this project,” Kramer said. “I am grateful to everyone who has been a part of this journey, from the school faculty to the Myers Davis staff, friends and family. Thanks to every one of the students for not giving up.”

For more information about Myers Davis, call the office at (870) 569-1052, email or visit