Monday was Pizza Day at Emerald. KNOXVILLE, Tenn Emerald Academy

Monday was Pizza Day at Emerald. KNOXVILLE, Tenn Emerald Academy

Sure, it’s cool to be ushered in by a DJ on your first day back to school, but what about having a celebrity chef make your lunch each day?

It’s safe to say students at Emerald Academy had an eventful first day back to school. Yes, it’s an early return, but Director Renee Kelly said it’s all a part of closing the achievement gap. That’s why you’ll see classes named after SEC universities, ivy league colleges or historically black colleges or universities.

“You can’t dream and you can’t go if you don’t know,” Kelly said. “So for our scholars, the exposure helps them think about all the possibilities.”

Kelly also hired a DJ to get “scholars” pumped up for the school year. Whereas most schools call the kids students, Emerald Academy calls them “scholars.” Just like college, principals are called “deans” and the cafeteria is referred to as the “dining hall.”

Cindy Tinnel oversees the dining hall. She’s worked in food service for more than a decade, but she’s known for winning the Food Network show, “Chopped.”

So why did she choose Emerald Academy of all places? Director Kelly and Tinnel both said, “It was a God thing.”

“I just knew it was my school,” Tinnel said.

The scholars at Emerald, those are her kids. She said that’s why she chooses food service over fancy restaurants.

Monday was Pizza Day at Emerald.

“Kids like pizza day. They really do,” Tinnel insisted. “Friday is hamburger day.”

Tinnel doesn’t serve the food shown on “Chopped,” but she said she knows how to feed those scholars.

“There’s no deviating from recipes, but I do think it’s how you cook it. Not that love translates into cooking, but I feel like it kinda does,” she laughed.

She has taken it upon herself to make sure kids get what they need, whether it’s at school or at home.

“I would come across a couple of kids that I would be concerned about and go to our guidance counselor, and be like I’ve got some concerns. Will you do a check at home to make sure they’re okay,” said Tinnel.

Feeding 500 kids can’t be easy, but she and her team do it. Director Kelly said they do it well.

“Don’t ask me how she does it, but I don’t think she ever comprises quality due to quantity. As a matter of fact, as we continue to add grade levels and our student enrollment increases, I just see Cindy’s heart get bigger and her food gets better,” said Director Kelly.

Director Kelly added, Tinnel furthers the Academy’s mission by supplying the nutritional needs for academic excellence.

“They say, ‘a hungry child can’t learn,'” said Tinnel.