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Meal helps unify high school

Autumn Englehardt helps prepare turkeys for Spokane Valley High School’s annual Thanksgiving dinner. (Lisa Leinberger)
Autumn Englehardt helps prepare turkeys for Spokane Valley High School’s annual Thanksgiving dinner. (Lisa Leinberger)

Students have big role in ‘community event’

When people think about Thanksgiving, they often think about tradition.

At Spokane Valley High School in the West Valley School District, students and staff have their own tradition: a meal for 300 family members, friends and community partners.

“It’s a community event,” said Principal Larry Bush. The nontraditional school has held the event for the last 10 to 15 years. Bush said they used to have the meal catered, but for the past five years have been cooking it themselves.

On Monday, Bush, students from the café class and teacher Peggy Collins were busy smoking a dozen boneless turkeys in three smokers in preparation for Tuesday’s meal.

Students Santa Kaskevica, Angelina Kaskevica and Autumn Englehardt have been preparing the potatoes since last week, cutting and boiling them so they could be mashed on Monday.

“We even came in on Friday,” Englehardt said. Students at SVHS attend school Monday through Thursday.

While the turkeys were brought in from Food Services of America, the majority of the feast was grown by students in the school’s food production class.

Horticulture teacher Scott Carver said students grew potatoes, onions, winter squash and pumpkins for the feast in the school’s farm project just north of Bigelow Gulch. He said students appreciate the vegetables more once they learn how they’re grown.

“Anytime that you are involved with it from the time you put it in the ground to the time you eat it, you value it more,” he said.

For the Kaskevica sisters, growing their own food isn’t a new idea.

“We live on a farm, so it’s normal,” said Angelina Kaskevica.

Spokane Valley High School’s farm is small – the pumpkins and squash are grown in a plot that is 30 feet by 40 feet, while the rest of the produce is grown in a 60-by-90-foot plot – but students still harvested more than 400 pounds of potatoes.

“It’s amazing how much you get from such a small area,” Carver said.

The Kaskevica sisters and Englehardt worked Monday, preparing the potatoes, plus the green bean casserole, veggie trays, gravy and stuffing. The families who are invited to attend will add to the feast, too.

“Every family brings one thing,” Bush said.

On Tuesday, all the school’s students will prepare for the visitors, setting up tables and decorations before everyone sits down for the meal.

While the food is a big part of the school’s tradition, what the students like about the meal is the sense of community that goes with it.

“It brings us all together,” Englehardt said.