Brandon High School (2023)

The restaurant industry has experienced vast changes since the pandemic which is why culinary arts programs such as ours at Brandon High School are important now more than ever. Our priority at Brandon High School is to produce educated, high-quality workers for the local community upon graduation. Partnering with local businesses and government entities is an important aspect of making our program successful.
One of our best partnerships is with our school’s special needs class led by Mrs. Tiffany Withers. BHS built a coffee shop in our school library with the purpose of providing Mrs. Withers’s special needs class experience in customer service. BHS Culinary Arts was then provided with the opportunity to provide fresh pastries and baked goods for Mrs. Withers’s students to sell. This partnership gives our culinary students experience in baking while following ServSafe guidelines and helps with funding our program. Another example of an amazing learning experience provided for our students through Mrs. Withers is that we were given the opportunity to cook and prepare food for our district-wide SPED Prom. The joy my students witnessed and felt while serving the special needs students at their prom is something they will always remember.
Another notable partnership is with the Rankin County Chamber of Commerce. BHS Culinary Arts has had a cooking team at the chamber’s “Krewe de Roux” gumbo cook-off event for three years already, and soon to be a fourth in February of this year. Each year, my seniors are given the chance to join our cooking team which requires much planning and preparation, but most importantly volunteering to spend an entire Saturday preparing around 20 gallons of gumbo. In the weeks prior to this event, our cooking team spends hours creating our own gumbo recipe from scratch, planning out exactly what amount of ingredients to purchase, and doing taste tests so we can finalize our recipe. Another one of our partners, Nick Clark with IGT, volunteers his time and some of his own equipment to help make this event possible for us. Mr. Clark’s previous experience in the restaurant industry has proven to be a great asset to our team and helped us to perform even better than before. This event has been such a wonderful opportunity for the community to see what our program can do as the public walks around tasting many variations of gumbo prepared by around 25-30 different cooking teams. While we have never won an award, the students involved have always claimed this to be one of their favorite experiences within the Culinary Arts program.
The state Culinary Arts curriculum requires involvement in a student organization. Our program chooses to participate in DECA because it provides our students with experience in the business side of the hospitality and restaurant industry. DECA’s mission is “to prepare emerging leaders and entrepreneurs for careers in finance, marketing, hospitality and management in high schools and colleges around the globe.” This past year, our school’s involvement in DECA allowed nine students to travel to Atlanta to compete at the international level after they earned first, second, or third place in their individual events at our state-level competition. As a co-advisor alongside BHS teacher, Hope Elkins, I have been able to witness firsthand how networking skills can lead to successful mentorships. For example, while at the DECA district competition, one student in particular who hasn’t been given many chances in her life had the opportunity to sit down with a partner from Empower. Afterwards, it was obvious to Mrs. Elkins and me how important this one interaction was to her and the future possibilities available to her.
The final partnerships I will mention are all within our very own school. Pam Smith, our Career and Technical Education Student Services Coordinator, has acted as a judge many times for our classroom cooking competitions. My students enjoy competing against each other for the “Best Dish” and greatly appreciate Mrs. Smith and other school employees that are willing to taste and provide feedback. Secondly, our program has a partnership with Kramer Sowell, or Agriculture and Natural Resources instructor. Mr. Sowell prepares hundreds of pounds of smoked chicken or hamburgers for various community fundraisers many times throughout the school year. He has allowed us many opportunities to either help with plating the food or preparing one of the side dishes, such as green beans. Our BHS Culinary Arts program also helped Mr. Sowell and our district Career and Technical Education Director, Cassondra Vanderford, with the district-wide FFA Banquet by preparing the baked beans and green beans, as well as setting up and serving at the event. Lastly, our program has partnered with our Library Media Specialist, Chelsea Thomas, to prepare lunches for district-wide librarian meetings. Our students prepared chicken salad, pimento cheese, and cupcakes for our most recent meeting.
We see the value in every single one of these partnerships, and our program would not be growing and thriving without them.