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2013 Winter Issue 4 (February 8, 2013)

Firebellies Connects with Middle Schoolers Through After School Cooking Classes

February 13, 2013
By Alex McMurtry

Breaking convention and bringing boys into the kitchen can be a struggle, but on Jan. 24, Firebellies expanded their role as cooking club on campus to include community engagement through their new mentoring and cooking program working with teenaged boys at the Northfield Middle School.

The program is a five week course led by Firebellies members Vayu Maini Rekdal ‘15, Tori Ostenso ‘15, and Sam Braslow ‘15, that works with boys involved in the middle school’s afterschool program to introduce them to functional cooking skills.

Each week of the course focuses on a different aspect of cooking. The lessons are designed to be interactive, presenting hands-on activities for the middle school students to gain a more comprehensive understanding of cooking and nutrition. One week knife skills were taught to students, the next was roasting nuts, and gradually, the program will introduce more complex activities such as cooking meals.

Initially, the program was intended to begin last year after Firebellies was awarded the $300 dollar Northfield Healthy Community Initiatives grant. Due to scheduling conflicts with the Youth Center, they were unable to run a program last year, but after applying and winning the grant again this year, Firebellies sought to develop an avenue for outreach to the community

Focusing on boys was a decision made by Oto and the heads of the youth program. Girls at the youth center often are engaged in cooking activities, but Oto and other directors felt that seeing college students interested in the culinary arts might help boys view their roles in the kitchen differently.

Rekdal believed that the combination of age and gender would make for a very “malleable” group to work with. He noted that middle schoolers tend to be more impressionable, and that the cooking demands a combination of creativity and responsibility, well suited for these lessons.

Before Firebellies’ was able to take their program to the middle school, they were required to sit down with Kelly Scheuerman, assistant Director of the Acting in the Community Together (ACT) center, to discuss etiquette of community engagement.

The ACT center acts as the “gatekeeper” between students and community action, focusing primarily on what Scheuerman calls the “sustainability” of Northfield. Student initiative must match with community need, and must be coordinated to ensure that the Northfield community will want to continue to collaborate with students.

Scheuerman thinks that community engagement opportunities such as the culinary lessons, add a very important outlet for Carleton students’ academic learning as much as it benefits the kids at the middle school. “[Engagement] bridges the gap, and allows for students to apply academic skills, college-learned skills, to the real world, to the broader world, and integrate [their studies] with different environments.”

After the first five weeks are up, Firebellies’ members, Oto, and Scheuerman will all meet to discuss the success of the program, and potentially look to instate a long term version at the middle school.

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