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Learning life skills through cooking

Chase Chandler and Ian Cochran had some very special cookies to bake, and they didn't want to waste any time in getting them started.

The two Buffalo Trail Elementary School fifth-graders reported to the school's teacher lounge on the morning of May 2, eager to get cooking. The pair scanned lists of ingredients, step-by-step prep and baking instructions and familiarized themselves with their kitchen tools, which ranged from a rolling pin to a top-of-the-line mixer. The menu item for the day was a homemade batch of sugar cookies, and the recipients would be firefighters from a nearby station.

Both Chandler and Cochran wanted to make sure they prepared the very best kind of treat for the visiting heroes.

"This is the most exciting thing," Chandler said simply as they got down to business and started going down the list. "Let's read that first step."

In preparing the cookies, the fifth-graders drew on a wide range of skills – they practiced their reading and language skills in scanning and implementing the recipe, they worked in a hands-on way with fractions and math in portioning their ingredients and they built on basic cooking skills that would serve a useful purpose long after they completed their cookies.

"They love cooking and planning," said Abby Kaczmarek, a speech pathologist at the school who helped create the "Let's Cook" life skills class at the beginning of the 2017-18 school year. Along with Jessica Brevik, an Integrated Learning Center (ILC) teacher at the school, Kaczmarek assembled the course as a way to teach a wide range of academic and practical skills to students with specific needs.

Whether it's drawing on the process of reading a recipe aloud to help students with speech issues or using the step-by-step, purposeful process of following a set of intricate directions to teach the importance of patience and detail, cooking has offered ILC students a multi-faceted route to important lessons.

During their sugar cookie session, for example, Chandler and Cochran read directions aloud, completed measurement conversions off the top of their head and carefully catalogued different ingredients. Cochran was quick to explain that by taking part in the classes, he's been able to contribute during his family's grocery shopping outings and cooking sessions. In past sessions, they've made quesadillas, pizza, waffles and smoothies.

Since kicking off the project, Kaczmarek and Brevik have found financial support through the Cherry Creek Schools Foundation's Educator Initiative Grants program. The Foundation's EIGs are made available to educators every year, and are designed to support projects across the district in every discipline. The funds also reflect the core mission of the CCSF, which is dedicated to funding opportunities for all students in the district in innovative ways and helping build partnerships within the community.

In this case, those funds have helped pay for ingredients, cooking utensils and other resources that have helped make the initiative a success for students like Chandler and Cochran. By the time they prepared their dough, rolled it into a thin layer, cut out cookies in the shape of stars, circles and squares and finally took the cooking sheet out of the oven, both of the students showed a clear amount of pride and ownership in their culinary project.

"We wanted to honor the firefighters," Cochran said.


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