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Gumbo for good: Iconic dish brings Madison East students & district leaders to the table

The students invited district administrators to eat lunch and take part in conversation.
On a chilly Friday afternoon, culinary students at Madison East High School warmed up with a cup of Leah Chase gumbo.
Published: Nov. 12, 2021 at 4:15 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 12, 2021 at 6:58 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - On a chilly Friday afternoon, culinary students at Madison East High School warmed up with a cup of Leah Chase gumbo.

All week long, the class learned about the late Chef Leah Chase and the impact her New Orleans restaurant, Dooky Chase, had on the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

“They built a legacy at that restaurant of building bridges and having positive conversations for change over a bowl of gumbo,” said Emily Sonnemann, the culinary teacher at East.

The class invited district leaders to lunch with them and take part in conversations about issues within the school.

“I feel like it’s such a fabulous opportunity for both leaders and adults in the district to really sit down and hear from students,” said Sonnemann.

Dr. Carlton Jenkins, the Madison Metropolitan School District Superintendent, says sharing a meal is always a way to start a tough conversation.

“Let’s put on a table some of the recent issues that we’ve been talking about,” said Jenkins. “But then also talk about how we can make it better as a community and co-create a space where everyone knows that teaching and learning is at our forefront along with safety.”

Jenkins says many students are struggling with their social and emotional well-being.

“We’re saying to them we get through tough situations together,” said Jenkins. “We don’t fall apart during this time; we lean forward.”

Students were also surprised to be able to virtually connect with Edgar Dooky Chase, the grandson of Leah Chase. They had the opportunity to ask him questions and share how they were carrying on his grandma’s legacy.

“One of the most powerful takeaways I had from that was that food really is a love language,” said Sonnemann. “This just an opportunity for people to come together here at East today and kind of share that love over a bowl of gumbo.”

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