“My father always taught his children you can do anything for one year,” said Patti Pastor, culinary teacher at Flagstaff High School.
Twelve years past her first one-year mark, Pastor has long since stopped counting down and is now adding up the successes of students who spent part of their high school years in her classes.
Tucked behind a walk-in freezer, a door next to her desk has been covered with pictures and announcements from just a portion of the more than 1,600 students she has taught during her time at FHS.
“I understand that some of these kids were brilliant and I knew that culinary would not be their final place,” Pastor said as she gazed at the smiling faces of those who have kept in touch. “But by giving them soft skills of communication, organization and efficiency, they were successful when they went on to other careers.”
With the help of such students’ recommendations, Pastor was named the 2019 Arizona Educator of Excellence by ProStart, a National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation program providing culinary- and management-based curriculum for high schoolers.
Pastor said her goal as a teacher is to equip students with the expertise needed to succeed in any area.
“What makes you stand out is not just your skills, but your networking, ability to communicate with people and ability to take leadership when chaos is all around you. That’s really my forte. I might be good at technical skills, but I am really good at helping kids see what is inside them – things that they didn’t even know they are capable of, and that’s what I love. That’s my favorite part,” she said.
Four years ago, Pastor’s team beat every other ProStart team in Arizona and had a chance to compete in the national invitational in Anaheim, California.
In total, her students have received more than half a million dollars in scholarships from participation in programs like ProStart; she said those who have stayed in hospitality are now employed at top businesses all over the world.
“It’s a completely different experience than any other culinary class I’ve ever been in. It’s just so much more hands-on and I learn so much from all the labs we do,” said Brianna Loescher, 15, who took Pastor’s Culinary I class this spring.
FROM RESTAURANT TO CLASSROOM
Pastor gained her culinary experience at Roma Pizza at the corner of Milton Road and West University Drive, the business she and her husband owned and operated for more than two decades. Before that, she worked as a legal researcher.
When Pastor was hit head-on by a drunk driver on her way home from Roma Pizza in 2002, though, her head injury resulted in vertigo that made continuing in the fast-paced restaurant environment impossible. Two years after the accident, her husband was no longer able to run the restaurant by himself, so the couple sold the business.
Wary of returning to a desk job, Pastor started working within Flagstaff Unified School District as a middle school substitute teacher and, later, an administrative assistant.
When the culinary position at FHS opened up, she took it, ready to get back in the kitchen.
“The first year in this job, I was in the fetal position, but the second year, when I emerged, I thought, I can do this job and I can be good at it,” she said. “At the restaurant we said we never want to be mediocre, we want to be the best, and it just spills into everything we do.”
Students praised Pastor’s positive attitude as well as the connections she established during her time as a Flagstaff small business owner, which have allowed her to find a job in the community for every student who wants one.
“It’s really helpful that she used to be a chef because she has that experience and can help us with that. She’s also really great at getting us scholarship and college opportunities, just because she has all those resources,” Selma Marsitto, 16, said.
Bryce Minick, 16, who will be moving away this summer, said he will miss these resources when he begins classes in his new culinary program.
Connections with students, like those whose pictures now adorn her office door, have also made the difference.
“It took me a couple years to figure out that your relationship with students is just as important as your ability to teach,” Pastor said.
She said she hopes to use the lessons she has learned at FHS to create positive changes in culinary education at both the state and national levels.