Left, Rob Harris-Cannon, foreground, produces a turkey from the fire pit as Mt. Vernon students look on. At right, students inspect the results.
You just don’t get much more Thanksgiving than what the folks at Mt. Vernon Middle School turned out on Nov. 25. And it wasn’t all about the turkey.
Turkey in the Hole Day is the school’s signature event, and this was its 38th consecutive year. Students and staff work together to cook turkeys in a fire pit then serve a Thanksgiving feast for parents and other guests.
What is this special day more about? The palpable connections among students, teachers, parents and volunteers. How they feel about their school.
How thankful they are.
“It’s awesome,” said seventh-grader Xaiviona Harrington. “I think it’s cool because I got to help with everything.”
“Xai” (pronounced Zay) also is thankful for the special attention she gets at the alternative school. Small classes. One-on-one instruction. The opportunity to build meaningful relationships with her classmates and teachers.
Mt. Vernon students and parents enjoy a tasty feast
It doesn’t take a whole lot of digging to witness the collaborative spirit at Mt. Vernon. But it does take a good bit to get at those turkeys.
Rob Harris-Cannon retired from Mt. Vernon last June after 28 years as a teacher. He’s overseen Turkey in the Hole Day since its inception, starting with a gig at Eckerd Wilderness Camp in the mid-1970s.
Each year, Harris-Cannon supervises the digging of the fire pit. This year, students helped build the pit the week or so before.
Seventeen turkeys wrapped in aluminum foil were buried in the pit overnight for slow cooking. The next day, Harris and volunteers – with students observing and helping out where safe and appropriate – excavated the fowl for the feast. A heapin’ helpin’ of sweet potatoes got much the same treatment.
“The greatest thing about this is seeing the kids get so involved,” said Harris-Cannon. “It’s a great educational experience for them.” He added that the lesson goes far beyond the Thanksgiving story, giving students a hands-on experience around American Indian culture from centuries ago.
Students helped transport the turkeys to the school’s cafeteria, where parents and volunteers provided all the trimmings. Dressing, gravy, green beans, cranberry sauce, desserts. It was all there, along with the requisite paper turkeys and other festive holiday decorations.
In the cafeteria, longtime Mt. Vernon teacher Vanette McKinney controlled traffic. All told, she expected about 300 students, parents and additional guests to be fed.
“It is a remarkable time together,” she said before dashing off to speak to guests. “They learn a lot of social skills. They love to help.”
Parents dined with their children and the children’s teachers and special guests, including WCPSS Board Chairperson Christine Kushner.
“I try to come to Turkey in the Hole every year,” said Kushner. “Meeting with the kids and the teachers who are here at Mt. Vernon really inspires me. And the food’s good, too!”
Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!