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Connecting through cooking

January 27, 2015 Cory Hare, ATA News Managing Editor
Students from the Cooking for Charity class pose for a photo with three members of Slave Lake’s homeless community — Aaron Jackson (burgundy hoodie), Bobby Carmichael (plaid hoodie) and Ray Atkinson (far right). Conceived by teacher Maria Doroshenko (centre, right), the class involves students preparing meals for a number of local groups. This meal with homeless people was organized with the help of Sgt. Chris Murphy of the Slave Lake RCMP (back row, centre).

Slave Lake school program hones life skills while giving back to the community

A new option course is opening the eyes of Slave Lake students to the plight of less fortunate people in their community and teaching them life skills along the way.

Roland Michener Secondary School’s Cooking for Charity option has been operating since September. So far the Grade 9 class has prepared meals for the town’s homeless population, a local friendship centre and families in need.

To most of the students in the class, the existence of these less fortunate people wasn’t obvious.

“I would like to think that [the course is] opening up their eyes,” said course creator and teacher Maria Doroshenko.

She created the course as a way to combine her passion for cooking (she does some catering on the side) with a desire to motivate students to help others.

“On average, it’s a very well-off town. On average, the kids don’t want for anything, so it took a little bit of coaxing for me to say … ‘if you’re walking around town, where do you see these issues?’” she said.

“I kind of wanted to open up their eyes.”

It’s worked.

The students conducted research and learned that there are roughly 10 to 12 homeless people who live in the treed areas along the trail system in Slave Lake. With help from the local RCMP, the class arranged a meeting with the homeless people and sat down to share a meal they’d prepared.

The experience enabled students to form bonds with homeless people and gain insight into their backstories. The result: they’ve learned that the homeless are real people and not scary, Doroshenko said.

Life skills

On the food side, the students have learned to prepare homemade soups, spaghetti and meat sauce, sweet and sour meatballs, pasta salads, egg muffins and various desserts. They’ve also been learning the financial side of cooking for large numbers. To earn money for the supplies required for their charitable cooking endeavours, the class regularly sells breakfast and lunches to fellow students in the cafeteria.

“They lost money the first time. It was a great opportunity to learn,” Doroshenko said.

And for her, as a veteran teacher who had taught only math for years, the course has been a great way to build rapport with students in a less academic setting.

“Some of these kids might not be very good academically, but when you put them in the kitchen they absolutely love it,” she said.

The course has also given Doroshenko an opportunity to teach in a less structured way than she employs when she teaches math.

“It’s nice for me to have the flexibility of not having a certain curriculum that I am bound to, so I’ve really enjoyed that,” she said.

While filling a need within the community, the course is meeting the learning outcomes in career and technology foundations, said principal Linda Green. The course came about when she asked teachers with some unassigned time to devise options that enabled them to share their passions with their students.

“We know that kids do well when they are exploring things that are in their area of passion,” Green said. “Why would that be any different for teachers?” ❚

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