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    Changing the Narrative and Teaching Fifth Graders the Joy of Cooking
    Posted on 05/11/2017
    Carrots and pasta

    Changing the Narrative and Teaching Fifth Graders the Joy of Cooking

    Two teachers, four local chefs, and the arts education advocacy nonprofit Coyote Central teamed up to teach John Muir students that healthy food can be fun to make. Educators Julie Trout, educator and visual arts specialist, and DeShawn Jackson, special education instructional assistant, both volunteered one afternoon a week for four weeks to lead the cooking class.

    The series was born out of the larger project, Changing the Narrative, which seeks to engage the school community to collaboratively change perceptions and dispel negative stereotypes about black men.

    Thirteen students from Jackson’s mentoring group for fourth and fifth grade African American boys participated in the series, which taught the students how to prepare simple, nutritious meals.

    For the final session, the children invited their families and teachers to join them for a feast entirely planned and prepared by the students.

    Coyote Central, located just half block from Garfield High School, donated the kitchen space and printed a keepsake menu for the final session. The nonprofit connects Seattle creative professionals and young people through hands-on workshops and camps.

    Before class, the colorful, art-filled front room of Coyote Central buzzed with the excited chatter of 10-11 year olds. They gathered around a large table to discuss the afternoon’s objectives as they snacked on fresh fruit and crackers. Trout and Jackson smoothly guided the conversation from the latest happenings at school to favorite foods to the menu du jour.

    Jackson and two student preparing food in professional kitchen

    Pictured above (from L to R) Ke'Shawn Lynch, DeShawn Jackson and Tijan Waggah work together in Coyote Central's professional kitchen.

    Then the chef led the boys through the menu, ingredient list, and preparation steps. After the short demo, each student found their station and prepared the assigned entree from start to finish as the chef and teachers circulated the kitchen providing tips and assistance at crucial stages.

    “This project is just one way we are telling the students we see them, we care about them, and we are dedicated to showing them different ways to build community and empower them to experience opportunities,” said Trout. “It is about finding new ways to find hope.”

    Julie Trout looks on as Tony Eastland checks the oven

    Pictured right, Julie Trout observes as Tony Eastland checks the temperature of the oven.

    At the end of each session, the children boxed up a meal to take home to share with family and then sat down to taste what they had prepared with fellow students and teachers. The boys then hopped back on the bus to their school, a donated service by United Way.

    The teachers and chefs encouraged the students to try new foods each week and worked with the boys to ensure the meals were student driven and included healthy ingredients.

    Ariel Bang, the course’s executive chef, said every meal the boys prepared was “healthy, comfort food that the kids could prepare themselves.” Jackson hopes the cooking class and mentoring group will empower African American boys.

    He has a long history with John Muir. He has taught there for six years, attended John Muir as an elementary student, and was involved as a parent when his daughter attended the school. He started the mentoring group three years ago to help support the students of color.

    “This project and mentor group are here to help the kids gain confidence and life skills,” said Jackson.

    It is also about exposing them to career options and role models. Jackson coordinates a volunteer program for the school that brings in African-American males from the community with diverse range of professions—from artists to lawyers—to lend a helping hand in John Muir classrooms every week.

    “I noticed at the final dinner the teachers they invited were so proud and impressed to see their students being so engaged, responsive,” said Trout. That positive attitude and community contribution has continued back at school. “I’m excited to see in my classroom,” said Trout, “some of the students that participated are responding with more leadership and offering to help during our time together.”

    This spring, the students are working to create a recipe book from the meals they learned to prepare. They plan to fill the book with student art and sell it in order to raise money for a group of students to be able to participate in the cooking class next year.