Sugg Middle School students prepare a homemade holiday meal for the Salvation Army

eearl@bradenton.comNovember 20, 2013 

MANATEE -- Middle school students in blue aprons darted from stove tops to sinks, rushing to finish their garlic mashed potatoes before the bell rang.

The next class coming in would be finishing the turkeys.

The students from Sugg Middle School, 13- to 15-year-olds, were preparing a traditional Thanksgiving meal. But it wasn't just a culinary lesson. These students are spending the week preparing a Thanksgiving meal for the Salvation Army in Bradenton. The students are expected to make a meal with all the trimmings to serve to about 100 people on Thursday. The students make each dish from scratch.

This is the first year Sugg's culinary program, founded last year, has done a service project.

"They are making a lot of progress," instructor Valerie Montgomery said. "They came in not even knowing what it meant to be an epicure."

Not every culinary class throughout the year is spent cooking. Montgomery teaches her students about the nutritional values of their food, the science behind microwaves and the cost of food.

"We do science, math, reading everything in here," Montgomery said.

At the start of the year, students even recorded their height, weight and BMI. Students have also studied sanitation and food borne illnesses.

This week, however, will be all about following recipes and cooking a proper holiday meal. Seventh- and eighth-graders in Montgomery's third-period class peeled garlic and boiled potatoes while anxiously discussing other dishes, such as the pies. Seventh-grader Victoria Torruella said the class has been inspired to cook more at home.

"I come home with recipes, and my dad tells me they are good and we should make them more often," Torruella said.

Her favorite recipe from class -- no-bake, stove-top cookies.

"Thanks to Mrs. Montgomery I have dessert to make every Friday night," Torruella said.

Torruella said although she wants to be a theoretical physicist one day, cooking is still a valuable skill.

"It is not of much interest to my age group, but Mrs. Montgomery makes it fun," Torruella said.

Montgomery said her classes had to be creative when coming up with their Thanksgiving meal because the culinary program does not have a large budget. The service project was made possible by a $250 gift from the Bradenton Marauders.

"Students calculated the cost and planned what food to serve," Montgomery said. "They also realized what they had to cut out."

The classroom was renovated through grants three years ago to include cabinets, ovens, microwaves and refrigerators. Before the renovation, Montgomery said the classroom had not been touched since the 1970s.

For most of Montgomery's students, it is their first "real kitchen" experience making more than ready-made microwaveable meals.

Montgomery said her classes have been good about trying new things and not acting squeamish when doing tasks like taking apart the bird and boiling the turkey necks.

Eighth graders Gillian Phillip and Chrissy Simeon said they are enjoying the class, even though burns and cuts happen often.

"I like being able to see what it is in my food," Phillip said.

Simeon added that it is also an opportunity for community service.

When it was time to begin cleaning up, many of the students did not want to leave the kitchens. Principal Sharon Scarbrough said many students chose to stay through their lunch periods.

Teams from Sugg Middle took second and first place in the desserts category at a culinary competition at Mixon Fruit Farms held by the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America.

The culinary academy at Sugg gives eighth-graders the opportunity to earn high school credits by taking a safety manager certification at the end of the year. While the adult-level test is a base for earning high school credit and helps make the students career ready, Montgomery said the overall grades from the class are earned through participation in the kitchen and maintaining a notebook for the class.

Montgomery said that culinary skills are an opportunity for students to practice time management and teamwork.

"They are all different. Some of the students are in gifted and some are not," Montgomery said. "It doesn't matter how they learn. Everyone helps one another. Middle school is tough socially but they have no choice, They have to share and work together."

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