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Gainesville teacher of the year promotes cooking, hard work
McPherson honored for instilling students with job skills, passion for culinary arts
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Gainesville High's Chef Whittney McPherson works with her introduction to culinary class in the school's kitchen recently. McPherson has been awarded Gainesville City School's Teacher of the YEar.

WHITTNEY MCPHERSON

School: Gainesville High School

Teaches: Culinary arts

Years at school: 11

Years teaching: 11

City of residence: Dahlonega

Quote: “The kids inspire me every day. I grow up with them every day. You have four years to really make a difference for them.”

Another reason is to make sure her culinary arts students are ready for a job when they graduate.

“It’s all about them learning job skills,” said McPherson, who was recently named Teacher of the Year for Gainesville City Schools.

Every student that takes her introduction to culinary arts class takes a test to become ServSafe certified. A certification lasts for five years and can be put on a resume for any job in the restaurant industry. If they happen to fail a part of the test, McPherson targets that section and helps them until they pass.

“I’m tough, but that teaches them about the real world,” she said.

Once they become certified, they are allowed to enter the kitchen, and every student who puts on an apron knows she believes in them.

“If you believe in them, and you hold them accountable, you’d be surprised about what they can do,” McPherson said. “People underestimate them.”

The teacher is in her 11th year of teaching for the Gainesville school and is highly regarded by her students, who call her Chef Mac and sometimes even Mom.

“She’s really like a second mother,” senior Areli Albarron said.

Albarron is president of the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America club, which McPherson advises. She’s been in the club for all four years of her high school career, learning life lessons from McPherson along the way and going to faraway places like California for FCCLA competitions.

“She makes that personal connection with her kids, no matter who you are,” Albarron said. “She’s a great person.”

Other students like sophomore Stephanie Chavez have had less time in McPherson’s classes, but knew they wanted to be in the culinary program before they even got to high school.

“I remember when I came (to the school on a tour) in eighth grade,” Chavez said. “I thought, ‘I have to be in that class.’”

Chavez said her favorite day of class was making biscuits in the school’s nearly commercial grade kitchen. Sophomore Daphne Alarcon agreed and said she also enjoyed being in the class — so much that it changed her life plans.

“I want to be a chef,” Alarcon said.

Both Alarcon and Chavez were excited to hear their teacher named as best in the district.

“She really deserves it; she’s a really good teacher,” Chavez said. “She’s really hands-on.”

Aaron Sosa, who is unable to hear McPherson’s lessons due to a hearing disability, said through his interpreter Janine Young that he gets a lot of hands-on work in the kitchen and in FCCLA. He likes his teacher because he said she is always professional.

“You can see (her professionalism) in how she teaches, in what she wears,” Sosa said.

Even before she was in high school, McPherson knew she wanted to be a teacher.

“From the time I could talk, I would set up a classroom with all my toys and pass out readers to them,” she said. “It’s kind of a calling for me.”

Once McPherson got to high school, she was drawn to the family consumer science courses, and she partially credits her aptitude for molding minds to her own family consumer science teacher.

“I was a troubled kid, and she saw something in me,” McPherson said.

McPherson got a scholarship for her involvement in FCCLA and went to University of Montevallo in Alabama.

She found a knack for cooking Southern and soul food, but once she got to Gainesville she realized she was missing a key cuisine.

“I knew nothing about Hispanic food,” she said.

For the first year and a half of her teaching career, she brought in the mothers of some of her Hispanic students to teach her how to cook their meals authentically.

“I learn a lot from my students, too. They teach me, in a way,” McPherson said.

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