FoodCorps service is sometimes tough in the winter: gardens are no longer growing and the weather is cold and snowy. The winter blues had me questioning the impact I was making. I had accomplished a lot already, but there was so much more to learn and achieve.
I have been facilitating third grade cooking classes at Meriden, CT’s Pulaski Elementary, but the first round of these recently came to a bittersweet end. While I was excited to connect with more kids in the school, I was also going to miss the outgoing students and the relationships we had built. They were the FIRST group of students that I had ever taught in my life, and that was special to me. It was a learning experience for the students, the staff, and myself. Before the cooking class started, we had no idea that some of the students hoped to be chefs when they grew up or that the vast majority of them would love spaghetti squash so much that they would eagerly share samples with the faculty in the office next door. Cooking class gave these students a sense of empowerment and self expression. The quieter kids, for example, found a new skill that didn’t need them to be loud in order to be noticed.
When the new round of cooking classes with different students started, I was eager (as well as a bit anxious) to get to know this unfamiliar group. As I was handing out aprons and greeting the new students walking through the door, a former cooking student marched through. Suddenly he froze, noticing something was different. He looked around the room and realized that these were all new faces in the classroom. This student was one of the quieter ones. He came up to me with a soft voice, pleading he had to tell me something. I could barely hear him over the new group of chatty, enthusiastic students. I had to ask him to please speak up so that I could hear him. Initially, I was a little hurt when I heard his remarks, “Oh.. I didn’t know this was a new cooking class, my teacher didn’t tell me, I want to leave…I don’t want to do this again.”
As my heart sunk, he then explained,
“I want to let another student try cooking. I loved cooking class so much I think the whole school should be able to have a chance and try, I don’t need to do it twice.”
I couldn’t help but to smile ear to ear as my my heart overflowed with optimism. As I reflect back on this moment, I realize this returning cooking student couldn’t have given a more valuable compliment. I wanted to give this student the biggest hug, because he had made my day. Better yet, he reassured me that my lessons were meaningful, and that students sincerely enjoyed the class. This one student not only discovered joy from cooking classes, he also wanted to help make a lasting impact, allowing his fellow students the opportunity to experience and learn from it too.
I am grateful for this student’s kind spirit and generosity in offering up his apron to allow another student a chance to try. Even in the third grade, he was able to help me clearly see the larger picture. This student wanted to help spread the positive impact nutritional cooking classes can have in creating a healthier school community. Because of that, I have hope others do too.