Maren Santelli, Mike Hymer, Jennifer Rapp, Lawrence High School
For students in the Emotional Disabilities program at Lawrence High School, school can be a difficult experience. Depending on students’ level of disability, their behaviors can keep them out of most regular classrooms and away from the regular student body.
“The students’ educational program is very individualized,” explained LHS social worker Maren Santelli. “Some students stay in this room all day long, while some students go to a few (regular) classes.”
Santelli and special education teachers Mike Hymer and Jennifer Rapp applied for and received an Innovative Teaching Grant from the Lawrence Schools Foundation to provide these students the opportunities for “Cooking In The Classroom.”
“As the social worker I am always looking for ways to do more life skills and social skills instead of always just academics,” she said. “Our kids definitely have a need for that, especially because they are almost adults and they need to learn independent living skills.”
Enter the grant from the Foundation, which is adding some life skill opportunities for the students. The grant provided the equipment needed for the project, such as a crock pot, a double-burner hot plate, mixing bowls, dishes, utensils, etc…, as well as a storage cabinet to house these items and non-perishable food items.
Each week a student gets to cook. The process starts with students working with the instructors on deciding on a dish to prepare, finding a recipe, making a grocery list, shopping for the needed ingredients, staying under budget, cooking the meal, and cleaning up afterwards.
“They are learning about having to stick to a budget, follow a recipe, general cooking skills, washing your hands – a lot of these kids don’t cook at home and sit down and have meals together,” Santelli said. “They are able to see something through, be able to eat it and share with others.”
The first week a student made a chicken alfredo pasta. The second week featured Korean beef in a crock pot. Last week marked the third student’s turn. He chose to make a mac and cheese dish.
“It is a five-star recipe – a casserole mac and cheese – but I am going to make it six star,” he said proudly and confidently.
Under supervision the student followed the recipe, browned the ground beef, mixed the ingredients and baked the casserole. He was asked what the coolest part of being able to cook was for him.
“You get to create it yourself,” he said. “The way I cook, I make it artistic. I watch all the cooking shows. I see it as an art form. I need to learn to cook. People need to learn to cook so they can survive properly.”
For Santelli and staff, this life-skill project is a hit.
“We don’t see problem behaviors when they involved with this activity like we might when we try to get them to do math or something like that,” she said.
And the result of the third student’s cooking? “He was so proud,” Santelli said. “He wanted everyone to sample his food. We packed up the leftovers for him to take home to his family.”