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  • Writer's pictureRachel Terlop

Injera, Jollof, and Tacos, OH MY!

When looping up to Second Grade with my ornery class of 26 Firsties, I was beyond excited when looking at the new set of units in the curriculum. Math looked like double-digit addition, subtraction with regrouping, and an introduction to multiplication. Our literacy curriculum and units of study boasted botany, geography, and weather. ....and a six week study of North America. Just North America.

Upon seeing that I was only going to talk about Canada and Mexico for six weeks, I deflated a little. My mind wandered to what I knew about Canada and Mexico, and admittedly it was just a little, but I still felt underwhelmed. I immediately walked to my grade level partner's room to ask her what she did last year.

The best thing about working with Shannon is that she has the ability to put a positive spin on everything. She is truly one of the kindest, most generous women I have ever had the privilege of working with. However, when I asked her what she did for the Canada/Mexico unit, her immediate response was "Throw it out!" After having a good laugh, she explained that in the past she had expanded the unit to "Reading Around the World," and brought in literature from different regions of the world. This sounded much more exciting to teach, but also allowed me to bring in literature from the cultures of the students in my classroom.

Shannon and I hurriedly became building off one an other, coming up with ways to expand her already awesome "Reading Around the World" unit. We both agreed that the best way to fully immerse students into each of the cultures and countries was through food.

I started by reaching out to our PTA and writing a grant proposal for about $300. If the unit of study was to be six weeks, and we touched on 6/7 continents that would require quite a bit of food. I budgeted and estimated $50 a week, or $2 per child/week as a baseline, and priced out some of my favorite recipes. From there, I wrote Donor's Choose grants for additional food - pasta, rice, bowls, and plates. Within 24 hours of my project going live, all $300 of it was funded! I could not believe the immediate support of bringing food into the classroom.

My students started their unit of study with North America, and we looked up how to make tacos. Our first week's version of "Fun Friday" involved making tacos - something simple and easy that the kids could customize to their liking. Bringing food into the classroom creates a lot of added logistics - heating things up, dietary restrictions, food allergies, etc. Tacos was an easy way to start, and it was a hit! The students were beyond excited to make their own, customize, trade bites with friends, and eat with their hands. I was astounded to learn that some of my students had never eaten a taco before!

After "Fun Friday" tacos, our next week's homework was based around our study of the continent of Europe. An easy thing for students to make: pasta. I sent home a box of pasta and explicit directions about how scholars needed parent supervision and support to successfully make dinner for their families. The only way to submit this assignment was to, of course, text Mrs. Terlop a photo. I was flooded with photos of students turning on the stove, boiling water, and preparing a meal. I was in tears by Monday night because parents were so receptive to this authentic literacy homework. Since students had to read the box and set a timer, parents felt proud and kids felt empowered.

Following homework assignments have included jollof rice (a Nigerian recipe), pasta nests, and baking brownies. In class we just finished two weeks studying the different regions of Africa and students indulged in Ethiopian food. Injera was hit or miss, but everyone tried eating with only their right hand!

Bringing culture into the classroom through food has encouraged children to try new things, read authentically, consider other's tastes and interests, and learn about why other cultures eat different foods from our American fare.

Next week is sushi - does anyone have 26 bamboo rolling mats?

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