Thursday, June 21, 2012

SWS Cooking Program

As the school year winds down, so did the after-school cooking program I've been volunteering with since September. It was an awesome program on Friday afternoons for middle and high school students from the Seattle World School. The SWS is a unique educational setting through the Seattle school district where recently immigrated youth can work on their English, get accustomed to the US, meet with mentors in their native language, and in general just be in a supportive environment for 1-3 semesters before going to a regular public school. Currently, most of the students are from Mexico, Vietnam, Mongolia, Somalia, Ethiopia, and China.

The class was held next-door to their school at the Miller Community Center on Capitol Hill, and it was there that Full-Circle Farm would drop off two boxes of organic produce and then the madness would commence. Sometime the menu was planned ahead of time; sometimes it was created on the spot based on what was in the produce boxes. Here were the main goals of the program:

* Work on English vocabulary! We would cover the names the of fruits and veggies before using them. Many foods I'm sure would have been new to a US-born student of the same age, such as kale, kohlrabi, and chard.

* Use proper kitchen etiquette and knife-handling techniques.

* Practice making vegetable-based, from-scratch meals. We wanted to students to realize that just because they were now living in America doesn't mean it's okay to eat primarily packaged or fast-food. We occasionally used flour, pasta, and meat, but for the most part meals consisted of fruit, veggies, whole grains, and legumes.

* Spend some time in the garden, identifying plants and seeing what they look like when growing. Luckily, there was a community garden right there at Miller Community Center that we partnered with. We would harvest foods such as beets, carrots, and spinach, and help students become familiar with using foods in the the kitchen straight from the garden.

* Encourage students to share recipes from their home country. Most students come from rich culinary traditions using local, whole ingredients, and especially the females have been cooking with their families since they were little girls. They had an incredible amount of comfort, intuition, and experience in the kitchen- a level that I personally probably didn't reach until the end of college. One week one student showed us how to make sambusas, and she had an expert proficiency at making dough and also how much filling was needed for the number of people.

* Let students get creative, even if the ingredients or dish is not something they are familiar with. They were always so enthusiastic and willing to just jump in. Of course this sometimes ended up with uncored apples in a fruit salad, or raw zucchini in a green salad, or lettuce on pizza, or a bit too much salt on roasted potatoes. But we let students experiment within reason.

* Just enjoy hanging out, cooking, and eating good food. I really loved being in the kitchen with all the students, and I think they did too.

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