Washougal High School Culinary Arts teacher Brenda Hitchins has been named the 2021 Regional Teacher of the Year by ESD 112!

Brenda is a career and technical education (CTE) teacher at WHS, focusing on culinary and baking. She brings three decades of industry experience in the culinary profession WHS, and came into teaching through a ‘work to teach’ program in Las Vegas, which allows individuals to use business experience as part of their training to become an educator. After earning her teaching certificate, Brenda spent six years teaching at a Las Vegas-based career and technical academy. She has been teaching in Washougal for the last five years.

Brenda seated in her classrooom

“I hope that we continue to give kids opportunities, especially through CTE,” said Brenda. “[I hope] that they (students) know they really don’t need a four-year degree, they can get a two-year degree and they can get trades and learn on the job. They don’t just have to think of that one [career path] to find their passion.”

Firmly rooted in the Washougal community, Hitchins has been working in partnership with Washougal School District’s Culinary Services Department and Clark College on a Career Launch program. She also serves as a SkillsUSA Culinary Advisor, volunteers her time to assist with sporting events, and is a member of the Washougal High School Culture and Climate Team.

“I cannot think of a more deserving and excellent candidate for Teacher of the Year than Chef Hitchins,” wrote Margaret Rice, Washougal School District’s Director of CTE and Culinary Services, in a letter of recommendation. “Her dedication and commitment to the profession is highly regarded. She is appreciated and respected by her students, parents, her peers, district leaders, and the community alike. She is compassionate and welcoming, helping students to relax and take risks, while pushing them to be more than they were before they came to be her student – not just in their skill development and coursework, but as human beings.”

Brenda and three students in front of a table where student is preparing food as part of their culinary final

Brenda has brought depth to Washougal’s Culinary Arts program through cross curricular programs and projects that go far beyond baking cakes and preparing main dishes. For example, she arranged for students to work collaboratively with middle school Design and Modeling students to create 3-D cookie cutters. The cutters were then a part of another student project to design and build gingerbread houses.

Another complex project Brenda developed is the school’s popular Food Truck Challenge, where students learn business skills and teamwork as they develop all facets of a food truck business – from market analysis to serving menu items to school staff and members of the community.

“Brenda fosters pride and a good work ethic in her students, encouraging them to take pride in their accomplishments and creations,” said Washougal School District Superintendent Dr. Mary Templeton. “Thanks to her tutelage, students with an interest in culinary careers can step confidently out into the job market with the skills needed to move forward in life.”

Brenda working on a fig tart, with ingredients on the prep surface behind and around her

Kol Mael, a 2019 WHS grad and former student, said that “The Culinary program has taken a huge leap of success since Chef Hitchens arrived in Washougal.”  WHS Associate Principal Dr. Michelle Massar added that “Chef maintains high expectations paired with support and establishes a safe, positive, and consistent learning environment so that all of her students can thrive. She is always looking for feedback to improve her craft and is constantly seeking new opportunities to learn.” She continued, saying that “Our students are lucky to have her as a teacher and mentor and we are a better school because of her role on our staff.”

Brenda is a familiar face around Washougal, working community and school events with her students as they learn real-world catering skills by planning, preparing, and serving delicious food to patrons.  “I could not be prouder than when I attend community events catered by Brenda’s culinary students. They are professional, impressively dressed in their WHS chef jackets, and working the buffet line or dessert table proudly serving delicious food they have created to an enthusiastic and impressed community,” said Dr. Mary Templeton.

Brenda and a student in front of a table where student is preparing food as part of their culinary final

As Regional Teacher of the Year, Brenda will have access to unique professional development opportunities from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, as well as opportunities to speak to local and statewide education leaders about issues important to her and her students. She will be presented with a plaque commemorating her award later this year at an ESD 112 board meeting.

Please join us in congratulating Brenda!