Ryan Kozlowski completed high school at Aspire Living & Learning’s ALL Academy in Connecticut just over a year ago. Now Ryan is finishing Culinary School at Lincoln Tech.

He’s studied everything from decorating cakes (not a fan) to making sushi, although pizza is still his favorite dish. “It’s easy but you can make it fancy. At school we’ve made it really complicated by putting on all kinds of crazy toppings.” The most unusual thing he’s made is grilled octopus, which he had to prepare in his meat cutting class. “The point where I am now in school you really have to know what you’re doing.”

Ryan has always been a foodie, but he reports that his love of cooking started with his mom. He’s been cooking at home for about 5 years. So it’s not surprising that culinary arts appeared on his interest list during planning meetings back in high school.

Students at ALL Academy participate in a formal planning process in their junior and senior years. According to Principal Lisa Riggi, “The MAPP process brings the student, the family, and the school together to help the student identify their strengths and lay out a path for the future.” Ryan remembers the process: “They started getting me ready, and I really worked to figure things out.”

Ryan starts a restaurant internship this fall at a steakhouse in New Haven and will finish his culinary program in November. And while he enjoys cooking, he’s not sure it’s still the path for him. “It’s a really cool experience, but I don’t know if I’m going to use it as a lifelong career.” He’s thinking about the business side of opening a restaurant, and that has some appeal too.

But he’s not limiting his options yet. Ryan is planning to enroll in EMT training this winter. This will be a whole different challenge, and he’s eager to dive in with the three-month training. He credits his mom with this interest in medicine, too: “My mom went to nursing school and liked it. That got me thinking about it. She’s the inspiration.” Ryan is feeling good about his prospects on the written and practical exams to become an EMT because of his experience at ALL Academy.

Ryan was one of the first students to enroll at ALL Academy after it opened, back when he was in middle school. The small class size and high ratio of teachers to students made a big difference. “They really understand you and take their time with you,” he recalls. “I definitely needed therapy and anger management. Once I got good with the behavior stuff, I really started working on the academics.”

Breaking down skills and mastering one step at a time was important to his success. “I was never good at math. The teachers started simple until I got the foundation. Then they made it more challenging. Every year got more difficult until I was able to do everything they put in front of me.”

When Ryan finished the academic requirements for graduation, he still had some work to do to prepare for his future. He spent a year in the ALL Academy’s Transition Program to shore up his self-advocacy and coping skills and learn employment basics. Lisa Riggi notes that, “the Transition Program is an option for students who have finished their academic work but need more preparation in other areas to take the next step. We focus on vocational experience as well as life skills.” Ryan sees it as time well spent, “I’ve really used everything I learned there to get myself through school and handle things.”

Ryan is proud of all he has achieved. “Over the 7 or 8 years I was at the Academy, I worked really hard to get myself to a point where I could function. Now I’m in college and functioning as an adult.” Ryan, we’re proud of you, too.

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Chef, Businessman, EMT: The many futures of Ryan Kozlowski