Students at the Mount Vernon School gasped in awe as teacher Rob Harris-Cannon peeled back crispy layers of silver foil to reveal a steaming, sizzling, juicy Thanksgiving turkey.
“Your hard work is going to feed 300 people,” Harris-Cannon, a social studies teacher, told the middle schoolers. The students had helped gather and stack firewood and dig a 20-foot long pit for the school’s annual Turkey in the Hole Thanksgiving lunch, an event that feeds 250 to 300 people from the Mount Vernon community every year. Harris-Cannon is in charge of the birds, baking them—as the name of the event suggests—in a hole in the ground.
It’s a technique Harris-Cannon says he learned in training at the Eckerd Wilderness Camps. First, volunteers wrapped the turkeys in four layers of foil, stuffing butter, salt, pepper and ice cubes in with the birds to keep them moist and season them. Then he heaped the firewood students had gathered over the large pit and started a bonfire. As the wood broke apart and created a bed of gleaming red coals in the pit, Harris-Cannon placed the turkeys in and covered the pit with dirt to create a natural oven. The turkeys sat in the pit overnight, simmering, to create juicy meat that literally fell off the bone. Harris-Cannon started the tradition at the school 26 years ago.
Preparing for the event gives students at Mount Vernon opportunities to work together, learn communication, collaboration, teamwork and how to follow directions closely, says Vanette McKinney, a special education resource teacher at the school.
“They get to see their teachers in a different role,” she says. “And they get to sit and have a meal with their parents.”
Students are also asked to invite teachers, counselors or other staff from their base schools, and those adults get to see the gains the student has made in an alternative setting, says Principal Robbie Gupton.
“It’s a chance for them to brag,” Gupton says. “It’s a really positive event.”
Eigth-grade student Markeese brought his mother, sister and niece to eat lunch with him.
“The atmosphere is good, the food is good, and the people are really friendly,” his mother Melesha Roberson said. “It’s absolutely wonderful.”
Along with about 250 pounds of turkey, volunteers prepared 90 pounds of sweet potatoes, plus green beans, rolls, gravy, cranberry sauce and a heap of stuffing.