Most productions staged at the end of the school year are class plays, concerts, awards ceremonies, or graduation ceremonies. But the sixth grade students in the La Honda-Pescadero Unified School District created something a little different for their parents and family members: a delicious meal representing diverse cultures.
Tuesday’s dinner at the community church in Pescadero was the culmination of the students’ work with Food Lab, a school lunch program started at Pacific School in Davenport by Stephanie Raugust. This is the first time she brought the program to another school, so she was excited to show the Pescadero-La Honda community what their students have been up to once a week for the past three months.
Inside the church, the tables were beautifully set with bouquets picked by students directly from the La Honda school garden. Menus at the door included recipes and maps which informed guests the origin of each type of food featured in the dinner.
Sixth grader Gerardo Gonzalez said that whenever the students cooked with Food Lab, they first colored in a map showing where the item was from. “And of course we wash our hands,” his friend Chris added. The boys seemed proud of their work.
The room was filled with family and friends. Guests enjoyed fresh garden salad, hand-squeezed lemonade, meat and cheese empanadas, vegetarian quiche, and rice and beans. Strawberrry shortcake and apple empanadas were served for dessert.
Christine Brodi, mother of Erika, a 6th grade student at La Honda School, said that since her daughter started participating in Food Lab, her daughter has been much more independent than before. Erika has taken initiative in helping with meals and tasks around the house, Brodi said. Erika's sister in 5th grade has become much more adventurous with tasting food, according to her mother, who added that she loves her time in the school garden and is looking forward to being a part of Food Lab next year. She has also been asking her mother if the family can start composting.
Raugust presented a slideshow to the familes over dinner which included pictures of their children cooking and a summary of Food Lab’s main principles, which included “Children learn best by doing” and “Problem solving can be fun and joyful.”
School garden teacher Julie Grinvalsky said she enjoyed cooking with the sixth graders each week. “Kids find something in an academic setting at which they really excel she said. “With fractions, a student can be struggling in the classroom and finally get it when they pour out measurements.” She said she also enjoyed seeing them take pride in their work, such as when they crimped a pie crust.
Food Lab’s employees from Davenport were also thrilled to have had the opportunity to work with students from a different school. The program has been at Davenport's Pacific School since 1984. Participants seemed to think that the expansion to the La Honda-Pescadero Unified School District has gone exceedingly well.
Emelia Miguel, who works as an aid to the program in Davenport as well, was happy with how enthusiastic the Pescadero students were. “You could tell they were really into it and really enjoyed doing something new. I liked practicing my Spanish with them too.”
One reason many believe the program works so well in Davenport is that Pacific School is its own district. The fifth and sixth graders cook lunch every day in the kitchen. Up the coast, the 6th graders at La Honda School take the bus down to Pescadero once a week to cook at the kitchen on the high school campus, and the meals they make are consumed at all schools for breakfasts and after school programs. There was talk at the dinner of having expanding students' participation next year.
For now, many were in agreement that this year’s pilot was successful. The food was fantastic, they said, and the students learned about other cultures while sharing stories about their own.
“This class is very dynamic and hands-on,” said teacher Kristina Kern. [“Food Lab] gave them the opportunity to see a product from beginning to end, and they cheered whenever it was their turn to cook.”