By Marlana Ward
Freelance Writer

The Johnson County High School Culinary Class is taking its skills outside the classroom to participate in regional competitions and beyond. The team of 17 students from the county traveled to the Skills USA competition to face schools across the region for recognition in a variety of fields of skilled service.

Skills USA is a national program designed to encourage students to build skills during their school years that will allow them to gain successful employment after graduation. The organization also seeks to ensure America maintains a skilled workforce for years to come by showcasing the different fields in which young people can pursue careers. JCHS culinary instructor Craig Cox has seen firsthand how the skills taught in the classroom can ready a young person for life as a working adult.

“I have had several students go on to culinary schools all around the area,” said Cox. “Two of my graduates have already gotten very good jobs while in school. One is a general manager at a national food chain about to move up into district management.”

This year’s team representing JCHS at the Skills USA competition is proud to see three of its students receive special recognition for their hard work and preparation.

“We have done extremely well,” Cox said. “We had two state winners. One group, including Taylor Cox, Taylor Fortner, and Jacob Lashlee, in suitcase display and Austin Trivette in Customer Service. Austin is the only one that gets to go on to Nationals though because the other is just a state event.”

Cox explained that due to the cost to attend the national competition the group has been practicing and raising funds to cover the expenses. “We have to raise the money for it ourselves, so if anyone needs catering or any type of food service let us know, Cox said. “We want to especially the Johnson County Foundation that gave us a $2,155 grant this year so we could take many students to The State Competition.”

Cox is confident of his students’ ability to compete at the national level as Austin Trivette is about to do as a representative of Johnson County. “I think Austin has a good chance to win,” Cox said. “He is confident and works very hard to learn his skill. He is extremely excited to move on to state. It will be a learning event of a lifetime for him.”

The students who participate in the competition make a significant commitment to themselves and the program as Cox shared: “We train. We train a lot. There is a lot of work that goes into these events to get students to compete. They must know their skills and must be able to perform at an extremely high level.”

The culinary program is quite popular at the high school with approximately 150 students participating each year. The students get the knowledge Cox can share from his many years of experience working in various kitchens across Tennessee as well as the instructional materials taught.

“I think it open doors for them because they already get that base education to build strong and good habits,” Cox said.

One reason the program is so popular and successful is the hands-on approach in class. “The students get to eat what we cook,” Cox added enthusiastically. “They love the very hands-on approach I have for them.”

Students of the JCHS Culinary Arts Program are learning the skills and habits to make them the very best service workforce for the future of the community. Cox summed up the program on behalf of his students when he said, “If you are an employer looking for workers my students are trained and ready to get jobs. I could be a great contact to staff your food service business, and without community support, we could not do what we do.”