The sophomores had been working on their knife skills, so they were in charge of chopping up the onions, carrots, and celery for the stuffing.
Or, as Joseph Abrams, 17, put it more elegantly: "We prepared the mirepoix." ("We also did the bread sculptures," he added, pointing out decorative braided loaves arranged on a serving table.)
About 90 students are in the culinary arts program at Dobbins Career and Technical Education High School in North Philadelphia, and every one of them was needed to prepare an early Thanksgiving dinner for hundreds of community members Friday evening.
About 50 turkeys had been sacrificed, roasted, and sliced for the ritual, and served up by students in chef's whites. They also doled out stuffing and squash, greens and corn bread, and slices of sheet cake for dessert.
The dinner was a sort of coming-out party for Dobbins, which in July was named one of nine designated community schools to receive extra funding from the city to bring more resources into impoverished neighborhoods.
To principal Toni Damon, that means Dobbins needs to be both a resource for the community and a place the community can rally around and support. Getting neighbors, business owners, and parents in the door was an important first step.
"We really need for people to see who we are," she said. "I hear people saying so many negative things about our youth today. I see people sometimes, when young boys come down the street, they cross the street. But you don't have to be afraid of our kids. You don't have to be afraid to come to this school."
Guests were greeted by cheerleaders chanting a welcome at the front door and were ushered by student volunteers up an elevator to the library, where a line for food wound around bookshelves and between tables.
Down the hall, students offered free haircuts in Dobbins' barbershop and quick beauty treatments in the salon. In a photo studio, graphic arts students took family portraits.
Damon wanted the night to be special for families who might not otherwise sit down together for a Thanksgiving meal.
Accomplishing that meant seeking donations, but not relying on them.
"While we would hope to get so many turkeys we won't have to go into our school budget to make this happen, that's not necessarily a reality," Damon said. "But we are committed as a school to serve this community."
Still, it helped that the community school designation came with a community resource coordinator, Charles Reyes, who got local businesses and alumni to donate sheet cakes and ingredients.
Last year, Damon was the only administrator at Dobbins, which, like other schools, has been stripped to a skeleton staff after years of funding cuts. She had no time to do the kind of outreach Reyes is doing now.
He has been running focus groups to figure out the community's needs and what resources they can contribute. (Early feedback: jobs, access to healthy food, and adult education.) Next, he'll assemble a community-school steering committee to embark on a strategic planning process.
The enthusiasm has been encouraging, he said: "I believe this is something the community has been thirsting for. It's reestablishing relationships and a sense of hope."
Damon says getting parents in the door can be difficult, even for report-card conferences.
But Dobbins ninth grader Tyson Hennix, 14, brought his whole family to the dinner.
His mother, Terena Clements, was impressed by the students' cooking.
"They're going to be some chefs in some restaurants!" she said.
Damon hopes some of the attendees will return for an affordable meal in the school restaurant, for after-school cooking and nutrition classes, or to consult with business and sports marketing students on their business plans.
Perhaps others will return for a pre-job-interview blowout or a straight-razor shave. (The latter may sound terrifying, but instructor Desmond Kirton said his students practice on balloons first - and pass the state board licensing exam before they graduate.)
Donna Fields, who lives down the street from the school, said she would return. She was seated in the barbershop, watching her 8-year-old nephew get a haircut. She had had her eyebrows done in the school salon next door.
"I took a chance with them," she said. "She did a real nice job, too."
Damon also hopes to encourage more neighborhood parents to send their kids to Dobbins.
The school made a positive first impression on Keyanna Fleming, who waited in the photo studio while her three children, 6, 7, and 11, posed for a portrait in front of a sparkly pink backdrop for a student photographer.
"My daughter wanted to come and see what it was all about it. It's pretty cool," Fleming said. "I didn't know they did all that at this high school."