Nonprofit helps instill cooking skills

May 25, 2017 By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

At one table of the science classroom, second-grader Caleb Logan cut fresh herbs with a small, round, serrated knife.

At another table, fourth-grader Georgina Spoonhunter used a handheld grater for the cheese.

The Arapahoe Elementary School students are part of the Arapaho Odyssey Cooking and Gardening classes of the 21st Century Community Learning Center program. They are participating in an after-school cooking program thanks to the Charlie Cart Project, a nationwide nonprofit initiative developed in 2014.

Cart

The nonprofit's mobile "kitchen for every classroom" comes with over 60 items that teachers can use to guide students in cooking activities. It has a convection oven, induction cook top, stainless steel rinse station, mixing bowls, storage drawers, outlets, a built-in power cord, measuring utensils, storage containers, lesson plans, and recipes.

It provides a hands-on educational opportunity for students while teaching them about nutrition, critical thinking, collaboration, and food education.

Fremont County School District 38 applied for a grant through the Wyoming Department of Education to bring the $8,500 cart to local students.

With the support of the district's 21st CCLC program, Arapaho school special education paraprofessionals Larissa Lawrence and Hope Peralta were able to incorporate the Arapaho Odyssey program, and the school's garden, into the Charlie Cart project, and provide guidance to students.

Both attended a training in Thermopolis where they learned about the Charlie Cart. There they found out other communities like Thermopolis and Gillette have also had the opportunity to be granted the Charlie Cart through the WDE.

There's a total of 12 Charlie Carts in the United States, and nine of those have been used in Wyoming, including Arapahoe's, Peralta said.

"We are very fortunate to have received this awesome teaching tool," Peralta said.

Arapaho students use the cart twice a week. They started using it in February when they received it. Peralta said they plan to use it during summer school and the following school year.

Students are also instructed to name food items in the Arapaho language when they participate in Arapaho Odyssey.

"Historically, in addition to hunting for our food sources, we were also gardeners," Arapaho school 21st CCLC coordinator Teresa HisChase said. "Not only did we plant and grow our food staples, but we harvested wild berries, carrots, potatoes, onions, medicinal plants and herbs."

The paras scheduled the program for after-school use. They use freshly grown herbs, vegetables and fruits in their lessons, from their garden that sits adjacent to the school.

Students have grown basil, cilantro, kale, tomatoes, parsley, peppers and sage, among other foods. An outdoor garden is also currently being developed next to the enclosure. Some items, like kale, were recently given to the school's cafeteria staff to use in meals.

"I am especially proud that we have been able to combine our fresh grown vegetables with our lunch program, because this encourages more nutritious food choices for all of the students at school," HisChase said. "Offering healthy choices from our greenhouse is a major accomplishment."

Cooking

The students are called gardeners when they're gardening and chefs when they're cooking. On a Tuesday after school, students were split up into an older group and a younger group. Peralta and Lawrence set out the ingredients and utensils needed to make herb and cheese frittatas. They explained what each ingredient was and how it would be used.

"Cooking is a life lesson," Peralta said. "We're trying to teach a healthier way rather than eating out of a box."

At the end of the school year or in the fall, Peralta said they hope to host a community feast by using ingredients straight from their garden.

"We would like to give back to community," she said, noting that students can invite their families to come see what the students have learned about cooking and gardening.

So far since February, the students have learned to make deviled eggs, strawberry shortcakes with strawberries from the garden, healthy banana oatmeal cookies, banana pancakes, and salad with an Indian spice flatbread.

To prevent cross contamination they don't cook anything with meat and mostly choose vegan dishes and baked goods.

The grant also pays for ingredients that aren't derived from the garden.

"We hope to be self-sufficient," Peralta said.

By June, they hope to see radishes in their garden.

While students were instructed to gather ingredients, Lawrence quizzed the students on fractions pertaining to measuring spoons and cups.

"Gardening also includes outdoor physical exercise while teaching them useful life skills," HisChase said. "I am also thankful to see (Peralta) and (Lawrence) encouraging our students to taste the vegetables they have grown themselves and hopefully they have begun to ask for them at home."

Odyssey

The district's Arapaho Odyssey program offers learning opportunities in social science, math, language arts, visual arts, wellness, and nutrition, HisChase said.

"Diabetes and obesity is prevalent among our tribal members, and one of the goals of the Arapaho Odyssey program is to teach our students about food sovereignty so that the overall health and well-being of the tribe will improve," she said. "When students take their preferences back to their families, they can help to improve family consumption choices, which then leads to healthier communities."