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Cooking program teaches elementary students life skills

December 3, 2017 GMT

GADSDEN, Ala. (AP) — Historically, kids have not fought to the front of the line to do dishes, clean up after themselves or eat their fruits and vegetables.

But somehow, that’s exactly what kids at Donehoo Elementary in Gadsden did the afternoon of Nov. 16 as part of their after-school program. Imagination Place Director Holly Guinn and museum educator Shawntay Gray hosted an installment of “Edible Education,” an outreach program introducing kids to better nutrition and making better food choices for themselves and their families.


Second- and third-graders were taught how to cut tomatoes into fourths with safety knives, shred cheese and chop basil on cutting boards at their desks, and then how to pour a mixture of ingredients onto bread to make bruschetta, a simple, Italian appetizer baked for 10 minutes in one of Gadsden City Schools’ two new portable kitchen units. Some of the kids said that they’d never tasted tomatoes before and weren’t sure what to expect.

“I’ve seen kids taste bananas, spinach and black olives for the first time,” said Guinn. “Some had never seen black olives, didn’t even know what one looked like.”

Guinn said new foods usually are met with suspicion, but within a few days of beginning the 16-session program, students are ready to give any weird thing a try.

“By Day Four they’re like, ‘We’re going to try just about anything she puts in front of us, because it’s been good so far,’” said Guinn.

Baking and plating is fairly simple with the portable kitchen units, which are full-featured for their size. Each has a metal tabletop that folds out to serve as a work area, a regular and convection oven, an electric range that Guinn said will only operate when a metal pan is placed on it (and almost immediately cools when a pan is removed, making it more kid-safe) and a kitchen sink, supplied with water filtered by the unit as it pipes it up from storage tanks. All of that fits into hardware about the size of a hotdog cart.

While the bread baked, restless kids volunteered to clean up around their work areas, wash and dry dishes and sanitize desks. The few who weren’t picked for a cleanup detail were a little upset with the decision, having been so eager to be part of any and every activity.

One of the program’s goals is that the kids have fun while they learn, according to Hector Baeza, federal programs director for Gadsden City Schools.


“When we were kids, there was a stigma that if you were staying after school, you were in trouble,” he said. “That’s the stigma we’re working to erase. We want after-school to be something the kids are looking forward to.”

The program lasts about a month, with those 16 sessions broken up over four weeks, each focusing on a different dish. Though younger students were cooking, the program usually caters to fourth- and fifth-graders, at Donehoo and at Striplin and Adams Elementary schools, which Guinn and Gray visited in previous months.

Students learn about measuring ingredients and how to divide the finished meals between people in the room. They have to keep an eye on the clock while food cooks, and sanitize their work areas before they eat. Parents come to class to work with their children on the last day of the program, and students can show off what they’ve learned.

Susan Andrew, community education coordinator for Gadsden City Schools, called the program a “STEAM” course — taking the science, technology, engineering and mathematics of “STEM” and adding the arts to the mix — citing the variety of real-world applications learned from cooking simple dishes.

The kids, for their part, loved the experience. One girl shouted, “I’m Gordon Ramsay!” Another pair, a little boy and girl, shared a high-five while they tried out their bruschetta.

“Good job cooking today, chef,” said the boy.


Information from: The Gadsden Times,