Every year, a group of Williamson County high school students gets to practice their cooking skills at the Franklin Rodeo.

Culinary arts students from Summit High School and Franklin High School donate their time to prepare and serve food to rodeo fans at the annual event.

The purpose is two-fold: to provide help for the Franklin Noon Rotary Club, who produces the rodeo, and to give the students experience.

There’s a lot more for students to learn about the food industry than cooking, and events like the Franklin Rodeo offer that, says Summit High culinary arts instructor Marsha Johnson.  “To put the student in a real life situation,” she said, “and let them see how important their communication skills are, their safety and sanitation practices, discipline, and follow-through” is what the rodeo provides students. “It’s more than just knowing how to cook.”

Students from both high schools have helped at the Franklin Rodeo for the last five years, helping cook and serve concessions, and prepping food, serving it, and cleaning up afterwards at the Rodeo Café.

Working with the Rotarians is good for the students, Johnson said. “They are so patient, teaching them. They are awesome in terms of helping them, laughing and talking with them. It lets (the students) see what it’s all about to volunteer, and give back to your community.” 

Chef Gillespie, the culinary arts teacher at Franklin High School, says his students benefit as well from the real-life situation the rodeo presents. “It opens up students,” he said, “to deal with peers other than their own, to interact with adults, and it gives them a glimpse of the real world. Dealing with a job, they expect you to be on time, and you can't let your personal feelings reflect to the customers.

Students love to help at the rodeo, and look forward to it all year long. Lindsay Trigona, a junior at Summit High School, has helped for the past two years and will help again this year. Her favorite part is the people, “and all the stuff we get to do,” she said. Working at the rodeo teaches her a lot, she thinks. “There’s definitely teamwork involved. There are a lot of people there, and we have to move quickly as a team.”

It’s something she looks forward to. “When the school year starts, I always ask Miss Johnson, ‘We're doing the rodeo, right?’, and I get so excited about it because it’s one of my favorite events.” Trigona, the daughter of Michael and Christine, is a member of the 2016 State Championship Culinary Arts Competitive Team that will represent Tennessee at a culinary arts competition in San Diego this July.

For culinary students helping at the rodeo, it reinforces what Johnson teaches in the classroom. “I can teach theory in the classroom till the cows come home, but they need to take that theory, roll up their sleeves and put it into practice, and do it with someone other than me. It’s real life education.”

The Rodeo Café is open prior to each performance of the Franklin Rodeo May 19-21 at the Williamson County Ag Expo Center. Culinary students also volunteer in the concessions stands serving popcorn, cotton candy, and more.

For more information on the rodeo or to purchase tickets, visit FranklinRodeo.com. Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for children; all Thursday, May 19, tickets are $10. All seats are reserved. 

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