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Top Chef Lowell

Students with special needs come together for food skills, friendship


Nathaniel DeWitt scooped a mouthful of pico de gallo into his mouth with a corn tortilla and declared it “delicious.” After all, he led a group of classmates in the making of the dish, from chopping the tomatoes to crushing the garlic to baking the chips.

High school student Cassandra Thomas chops onions with help from teacher Olivia McCain

“I cook a lot at home,” Nathaniel explained. “I make meatloaf, pork roast, cookies. Sometimes I like to grill outside. My mom taught me how.”

And in turn, he is getting a chance to teach classmates the fine art of everyday cuisine.

While Nathaniel worked with classmates on their pico and chips, a group at another table worked to de-bone roasted chicken for sliders. A third group removed brats from their casings and mixed the meat with onions, garlic and other ingredients, then smooshed them into patties.

“What’s next?” parapro Merilee Trierweiler asked student Justus Farrell, who perused the recipe and answered “Two cloves of garlic, minced.”

As the patties were grilling, Connor Fitzgerald and classmate Shianna Sawdy used a map to place table settings for the meal.

High school student Nathaniel DeWitt slices tortillas to bake chips for fresh pico de gallo

Grant-funded Learning

The activity, in its second year, was kick-started by a $1,500 grant last year from the Lowell Education Foundation to teachers Deborah Greenhoe and Olivia McCain.

The aim is to give middle school and high school students with special needs lessons in cooking to learn practical skills such as how to read a recipe, choose ingredients, prepare a clean workspace, cook, set a table and clean up.

The lesson, held about once a month throughout the school year, also is intended to give students from both schools the opportunity to build relationships and mentor one another.

“It’s been really great to see the kids interacting, and seeing some of the high school students take the middle school students under their wings,” McCain said.

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering East Grand Rapids, Forest Hills and Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio

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