Washougal High School’s Brenda Hitchins has been named the 2021 Regional Teacher of the Year by ESD 112. Hitchins is a career and technical education (CTE) teacher at the school, focusing on culinary and baking.
Hitchins, who has three decades of experience in the culinary profession, 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 a teaching certificate, Hitchins spent six years teaching at a Las Vegas-based career and technical academy. She has been teaching in Washougal for the last five years.
“I hope that we continue to give kids opportunities, especially through CTE,” said Hitchins. “[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.”
Hitchins 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 Hitchins 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.
“(Hitchins) 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 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.”
As Regional Teacher of the Year, Hitchins will have access to unique professional development opportunities from OSPI, 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.