At Paso Verde School, a square root isn’t always mathematics.
And you can stick a fork into some of the classwork.
Unconventional, perhaps, but Paso Verde is using hands-on activities involving plants and foods to teach valuable life skills through two special classes, Garden and Kitchen, that kids of all grade levels attend for 30 minutes each month.
By watching what happens in soil and ovens, students not only learn about cooking and gardening, they also study elements of science ranging from nature’s life cycles to environmental sustainability. They’ll predict, plan, observe, calculate and measure, consistent with the school’s International Baccalaureate (IB) focus.
Eventually, the goal is to use fruits and vegetables grown in Paso Verde’s garden to create edible food items in Kitchen class.
Principal Tonja Jarrell said that through kitchen and garden experiences, Paso Verde scholars “learn to be global-minded thinkers who are risk takers, knowledgeable, principled, and open minded.”
The Kitchen and Garden classes are an “important part of the inquiry-based instruction that is central to teaching and learning in IB Primary Years Programme schools.” Jarrell added.
One day recently in Garden class, 1st-graders were learning about the parts of a seed and words associated with plants, such as “seed coat,” “root,” “leaves” and “food.”
William said he enjoys the class, adding, “It’s fun because you get to plant your own seeds.” He plans to garden at home when he gets older.
“I like flowers and I like vegetables,” said Chizaran.
Jacob’s favorite thing about the class is “growing the plants.” Asked what he’s excited about growing, the 1st-grader didn’t hesitate. “Those seeds over there, but I don’t know what they’re called.”
Parents Kate Burns and Misty Alafranji teach the Garden and Kitchen class, respectively. They receive a stipend through a grant from Raley’s of Natomas.
Burns said she hopes to instill in Paso Verde’s Pumas an appreciation of plants, animals and nature, as well as respect for gardening and the knowledge that’s it’s possible to nurture plants and grow your own food.
“I kind of feel like it’s a little bit of a lost art, growing things, so I think that’s important,” Burns said. “And I think it’s nice for kids to get outside in nature and just learn to look and appreciate and enjoy.”
In Kitchen class, a different food item is prepared and sampled by students each month, but teacher Alafranji, a professional chef, said the goal is not to make the kids expert chefs. She uses cooking as a way to discuss healthy eating, good choices, and to explore where food comes from and how eating habits differ in various parts of the world.
When they leave Paso Verde, Alafranji wants all Pumas to understand that their relationship to food is far more than just buying it at the store and heating it up at home. She wants them to know what fresh food looks and tastes like, how it impacts their bodies, and to appreciate the diversity in meal items and the countries that popularized them.
In one recent Kitchen class, for example, 2nd-graders sampled and discussed naan, a traditional Indian flatbread served that day with mango chutney and a lime relish. They also talked about India and the Silk Road, an ancient trade route into China.
Another day, Alafranji focused on homemade tortillas – and students talked about the Aztec and Mayan civilizations. Yet another session, the spotlight was on mezze platters – a sampling of food items – and the Arabian Peninsula.
Alayna, 7, said she liked Kitchen class because “I like tasting foods that I haven’t tried.”
“I like trying to make foods, and stuff like that,” added Pedro, a 2nd-grader.
Carter, 7, said that her dad likes to cook, her grandma likes to cook – a love for culinary runs in her family. “It’s just so fun,” she added. “It opens my feelings and it opens my heart.” When she’s in Kitchen class, Carter added, “It feels like I’m home.”