Sporting a dress shirt and tie, Godfrey Elementary fourth-grader Alexander Zavala sat out during recess so he wouldn’t get dirty. The reason? “Today is a special day. We are having a Thanksgiving feast!” he said.
It was a feast indeed, and fourth-graders spent an entire school day preparing for it. They cut, chopped and peeled veggies and pulled meat from rotisserie chickens disguised as mini “turkeys.” They learned to whip up mashed potatoes, mix corn meal, stir gravy and bake sweet treats. They made placemats and centerpieces, set tables and filled water containers.
Moms and dads, who joined students at feast time, added their own offerings, like empanadas and tamales. For several Hispanic students new to the U.S., it was their first traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
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While there were a few mishaps — an injured thumb from a carrot peeler, a forgotten Crock-Pot left simmering in a classroom and green beans left undrained — students successfully pulled off a picture-perfect Thanksgiving dinner.
“They were literally part of everything from start to finish, and now they get to share it with their families,” said fourth-grade teacher Allison Diaz, who has organized the event for the past four years.
Students said cooking was difficult and took a lot of concentration, but they were more focused on what they are thankful for.
“I’m thankful for my family,” said Brenen Mockerman.
“I’m thankful for my mom and my dad,” said Evan Swain.
“I’m thankful for everything,” said Brian Martin.
A Community Effort
Diaz has always relied on donations from community businesses to fund the feast, but received none this year. She scrambled, and just days before the event, emailed staff members for help.
Staff came forward with everything needed, and students were more than willing to share the finished products with teachers and parents. Godfrey-Lee Public Schools is a high-poverty district, with the majority of families qualifying for free and reduced lunch.
“They are so proud of everything they’ve done,” Diaz said. “In an area where they don’t have much and usually lots of things are given to them, this is a day when they are eager and willing to share with everybody else.”
“It’s great for them to get this experience of being able to cook a meal and share with their friends and families,” added fourth-grade teacher Alex Kuiper, who helped organize the event. “A lot of our families don’t have a lot, but they were able to bring in donations and they came and brought what they could.”
Aldo Aguilar-Suarez explained making corn muffins to his dad, Natividad Aguilar, who surprised his son my showing up at the feast. “It’s great because they are actually cooking,” Aguilar said. “They are proud of what they did. They can go home and tell Mom.”
Mixing in Math and Reading
For many students, it was their first time cooking. They learned how to read and follow a recipe and measure a teaspoon, tablespoon and cup.
It was also a lesson in fractions, Diaz said, and that didn’t get past students.
“We informed one group that we need them to double their recipe, which meant we needed double the ingredients,” she said. “One student responded with, ‘Wait, are we cooking or doing math?'”
Teaching Cooking to Children