Students With Visual Impairments Cook Up New Skills

Carol Lillie works with Jessica Nguyan, left, and Caitlyn Rogers to get their dough just right

Cookies? Check. Apple crisp? Check. Camaraderie? Check. These are the ingredients that make up the fun-filled after-school cooking class for visually impaired students from neighboring districts in Northern Kent County.

Twice a month, students from Kenowa Hills Public Schools, Sparta Area Schools and Kent City Community Schools gather at Kent City Middle School for a lesson in culinary arts. The afternoon sessions cover the essentials, from recipes and preparation to safety and cleanup. And, of course, eating the tasty creations.

Safe Cooking Tips for Those with Visual Impairments

  • Wear short sleeves or roll your sleeves above the elbow when working at the stove.
  • Wear oven mitts to handle pots and pans.
  • Set a timer to remind you when to turn off the stove and electrical appliances.
  • Consider using a pizza cutter rather than a knife for cutting, or try out a pivot knife that is connected to a cutting board.
  • Don’t store spices on a shelf above the stove.
  • Don’t remove a pan from the stove before you turn off the flame.

Source: American Foundation for the Blind

The class teaches skills others may take for granted, but are essential for independent living, explained Nancy Calvi, teacher consultant for the visually impaired, who teamed up with mobility specialist Carol Lillie to provide the class.

Calvi said some students don’t get the experience at home because parents are worried their visual impairments could result in injury.

“We’re teaching them to be more comfortable doing a variety of things,” said Calvi, who also explained that the class provides opportunity for students with similar life experiences to interact when they otherwise may not have met.

Foodie Friends

The energy was high in the home economics room on the last session before holiday break. Students gathered around Calvi and Lillie to get the lowdown on rolling out dough and using cookie cutters.

“I like making cookies and brownies at home,” said Gabbi Charapek, a seventh-grader from Kent City Middle School, who seemed excited to show off her skills. “Sometimes (my Mom) helps me, sometimes I do it myself and sometimes I cook with friends.”

During the previous session, students learned how to make apple crisp. Several declared apple crisp the new favorite treat.

“We’re in Michigan, we have lots of apples… it’s a winner,” said Lillie on how they decided to make the dish. She explained that early in the year they asked the students for five foods they want to make, what cooking skills they already can do well and where they think they can improve.

The food requests and the feasibility of recreating them determine what students cook through the year.

Sparta Middle School sixth-grader Hunter Warner said he’s learned quite a bit. “I’ve learned how to cut properly, and how to clean an apple properly.”

Senior Jessica Nguyan had hoped sushi could be included, “but they said it’s too hard.” Jessica was, however, happy to have extra time to spend with her friend, Caitlyn Rogers, who added “We’ve been friends for years.”

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More Cooking Tips from the American Federation for the Blind

Cooking Without Looking Television Cooking Show

Nancy Calvi helps Hunter Warner and Jallise Burrows with their gingerbread cookies
Adrian Hirsch has been with SNN since its launch, starting as an intern from Grand Valley State University where he received a degree in broadcasting and business. After the internship, Adrian was brought on as staff to continue reporting, editing and publishing stories for SNN and Kent ISD. Adrian has been active with community radio station WYCE for years, served as Non-Profit Coordinator for GRTV, and currently works as the Web Producer for SNN.

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