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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Winter programming at Thomson: Making granola bars with Chef Margi

(From the Poetry Slam! until March, traditional DC SCORES programming takes a little break. Some coaches use the recess to start thinking about their spring service-learning projects; some coaches ask DC SCORES staff to stop by and run soccer clinics; and some coaches use the time to catch up on their other school commitments.)

Below is a story from Thomson Elementary School’s winter season:

Written by Yael Kiken
Elementary School Program Coordinator & 
Writing Coach at Thomson Elementary School

During the fall season, DC SCORES writing at Thomson Elementary School was geared toward environmentalism, since there was a lot of interest in ‘being green’ among the Thomson community. This inspired the other Thomson coaches and I to discuss with the poet-athletes the connection between health, athleticism, teamwork, environment and community during our winter sessions.

We tackled questions like: What do you enjoy about the culture at your school, and what challenges do you see? What are ways we could help the environment? What is the connection between Thomson as a school building and Thomson as a community? What are changes that teachers and students could make to have a more positive environmental impact?

During one discussion, we talked about the connection between healthy eating and physical fitness. Students mentioned that before soccer games, they should eat a filling, healthy snack.

The pair of teachers who helped with the ‘Being Green’ initiative decided to talk to their colleague Margi Fineran, a Head Start teacher who is also a pastry chef in the White House. Fineran cultivates a rooftop garden with her Head Start students, and expressed interest in holding a school discussion on healthy eating at Thomson (as per Michelle Obama’s current healthy schools initiative).

Since the Thomson Tigers had been talking about nutrition, this seemed like the perfect opportunity for Fineran to share her knowledge about cooking and food with students.

On a Monday in February, Fineran — or “Chef Margi,” as she is known to the DC SCORES Green Team — donned her white chef’s uniform and came to a Thomson writing session as a guest speaker. She brought a copy of a recipe for granola bars and led a discussion about how to follow a recipe, how to make recipes healthier, and how to safely work in the kitchen.

Students learned that they could substitute wet ingredients for other wet ingredients, and dry for dry (example: apple sauce can be substituted for oil, but not for flour). They learned that they could use a vinegar solution instead of a conventional cleaner to clean table tops in a more eco-friendly way.

The next week, they put these lessons into practice by actually following the recipe.

As someone who loves to cook, I wondered how the process would go. Cooking can get pretty messy and hectic, and after a long school day I wasn’t sure if students would have the focus to carefully follow a recipe.

I shouldn’t have worried.

After washing their hands, students divided into three groups. Using ingredients donated by Whole Foods, they followed each step of the recipe — using their knowledge of fractions and addition to measure out the ingredients.

When we got to the “add raisins” section, each group got to decide which raisin substitute they wanted to use. (There had been a group consensus among students and coaches that raisins were out.) One group chose blueberries; one group chose bananas; and the other went with oranges.

Each group had to negotiate how to collaborate in the most fair, effective way. During one of the first steps, four students in the Blueberry Group tried to stir the mixture at the same time, which resulted in a mid-sized glob flying out of the bowl and onto someone’s white school uniform. From then on, the bowl was passed around, and one student at a time was in charge of mixing.

Students urged one another on: “Mix it up, Jazmin, get all your anger out!”

Finally, the mixture was prepared and spread out on cookie sheets. As students completed the clean-up effort, Chef Margi walked in with the three batches of granola bars. Each student got to eat a few, and many offered them to their parents and siblings who were waiting to pick them up.

As everyone snacked, they responded to short writing prompts.

In response to the question, What is a recipe?, students wrote a variety of creative answers:
  • A procedure text that tells you how to cook something
  • A formula used to make food
  • Ingredients that you mix together
  • A direction
One student, Elizabeth M., wrote a poem about one of the ingredients:

Apple Sauce
Gooey throw-up baby food
Cinnamon and apples
So good I can’t explain it
Like putting your hands in mud
No Sound

Students expressed interest in another cooking project. One boy suggested cooking beans and tortillas, which his parents cook at home. That prompted other students to chime in with their favorite foods from home, reminding me of how closely food is tied to culture and family.

The students left with plenty of ideas, and some granola bars for the walk home.

They’ll certainly need that energy when practice starts next week!

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