Hometown Hero: Judy Tibbetts has been teaching Franklin students how to cook for 53 years

By EILEEN O’GRADY

Monitor staff

Published: 01-30-2023 5:04 PM

Judy Tibbetts recalls that when she was interviewed for her first teaching job at Franklin High School back in 1970, the superintendent at the time told her he was interested in hiring her only if she planned to stay in the district.

“I said, ‘Yes, I’ll stay,’ ” Tibbetts recalled.

Fifty-three years later, she thinks she has fulfilled that promise.

Mrs. Tibbetts, as she’s known to her students, is the family and consumer science teacher at Franklin High School. She teaches basic and advanced food courses at the high school level and also college-level culinary courses as part of the school’s Running Start program, a statewide initiative that allows students to take reduced-price college courses at their high school for college credit.

“People ask why I stay, and my answer is I have the best job,” Tibbetts said. “Every day is a new adventure, so who could ask for more?”

Tibbetts, 74, has seen a lot of change in the past five decades, estimating she has worked with at least 11 different principals and 10 superintendents.

“She is a true Franklin hero, teaching at FHS for the past 53 years – as long as I have been alive!” said Franklin Superintendent Dan LeGallo. “She has impacted thousands of students during her career, and we are so proud and grateful for her dedication to the Franklin community.”

In the early days of teaching, her subject area was called home economics and included lessons on child development, marriage and the family, interior decorating and sewing, as well as food. At that time, she said it was mostly girls who enrolled in child development courses.

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For a while the school offered girls’ and boys’ class sections, divided by gender. Today, Tibbetts’ courses focus solely on food, and she says enrollment is pretty evenly balanced by gender.

Tibbetts was also instrumental in establishing college-level culinary courses at Franklin High as part of the Running Start program. In 2008, former Gov. John Lynch presented Tibbetts with an Advocate of the Year Award for her work with Project Running Start.

She enjoys the enthusiasm of her Running Start students, who voluntarily come to school at 8 a.m. – 30 minutes before their class officially starts – to be able to have more learning time in the classroom.

“Where do you get that in most subjects? You don’t,” Tibbetts said. “Which really excites me, to think that they’re going to be dedicated to it.”

Tibbetts also helped to develop Franklin’s sewing program, which she described as the “best in the state” before it was cut from the program of studies a decade ago. This year, a sewing course is being offered again for the first time, and Tibbetts is glad that it’s back. She said with the cost of living on the rise, life skills like cooking and sewing will be useful for the students.

“With the economy the way it is, people gotta learn to go back to these things,” Tibbetts said. “I think a lot of the kids are very happy that they’re getting some of these skills.”

In her basic cooking course, students learn safety and sanitation and how to read recipes, and they learn to make easy dishes like BLT sandwiches, apple crisp, English muffin pizzas, crispy potato wedges, omelets and macaroni and cheese. In her advanced course, students also learn meal planning, how to design a kitchen, how restaurants determine menus and pricing. They learn more advanced dishes like au gratin potatoes, carbonara, broccoli soup and stuffed pasta shells.

Tibbetts says the most rewarding part of her job has been seeing students succeed and take jobs in the community. She has taught multiple generations of families, and students are always curious to know what their parents were like in high school.

When discussing her role, Tibbetts said her work wouldn’t be possible without the work of others in the school, including the superintendent and district administrators.

“I really do want to give credit to everybody, because it’s a team,” Tibbetts said. “You don’t make it unless you have a strong team.”

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