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Recipe for success

Wellness Council puts health first at Springfield Gardens school
New York Teacher
Chefs, parents and teachers are at the ready for the afternoon Family Cooking Cl
Sampling the afternoon’s entrée before everyone sits down to an early dinner are
A 3rd-grader presents the tilapia that is about to become fish tacos.

Too many cooks didn’t spoil the broth!

Working together, 3rd- through 5th-grade chefs at the afternoon family cooking class at PS 37 in Springfield Gardens turned out delicious fish tacos, fluffy brown rice and a crunchy red cabbage salad that tasted as good as it looked. They chopped, minced and diced with brio under the guidance of a trained chef and the watchful eyes of parents who are a regular part of the Thursday class.

And after two hours in a hot kitchen, they sat down to enjoy their meal, topping it all off with pineapple smoothies!

The cooking class is one part of the PS 37 Wellness Council’s initiative to develop healthy lifestyles for both students and their family members by improving nutrition, health and physical-activity opportunities. School nurse Sherry Branch started the ball rolling three years ago. Her efforts produced the active 15-member council — 13 staffers and two parents — it is today.

“To build the council, we found the special talents of colleagues — everyone with a special skill,” said Chapter Leader Nannetta Smith, who serves on the council.

Branch, who has served as a school nurse for 18 years at PS 37, not only wrote the grant that won the seed money they needed but she has also won additional grants for a kitchen by Home Depot, for the chef and food for the cooking classes provided by the nonprofit Common Threads organization and for new school water fountains.

With half of New York City elementary school children either overweight or obese, the council members put a special focus on healthy eating habits. In the cooking class, the students don’t just practice the art of cooking; they also learn about portion size, healthy foods and foods some haven’t tried or even heard of. The class also introduces students to foods of different countries. They loved the Ethiopian dinner they prepared and then ate with their hands.

Darren demonstrates his measuring skills as his grandmother, Paulette Robinson (
Miller Photography

Darren demonstrates his measuring skills as his grandmother, Paulette Robinson (left), looks on approvingly.

Parent Sharmelle Prince, a nutrition teacher back in her native Guyana whose 3rd-grade daughter Tacara is in the class, said she was “adding new recipes to the Guyanese-only meals” she has been cooking until now.

Beyond new food and healthy food, Branch notes that students are learning about science and math, becoming adept at measuring ingredients and understanding the importance of getting it right. They are also being introduced to new vocabulary and to the greater world where many of the new recipes come from.

Smith, a physical education teacher, includes a Small Bites program in some of her gym classes where each lesson focuses on a nutrition concept and a healthy snack recipe. Her students recently made up a class-size batch of healthy trail mix, which was an instant success.

And when April showers give way to warmer temperatures and sunshine, the council will begin its work on a school garden that students will plant, maintain and harvest. These city kids will be able to connect to their food by experiencing the full cycle of garden to plate.

Branch said the program has benefited the entire school community: Students are eating healthier and some now aspire to become chefs or grow their own organic gardens, while parents have been inspired to cook more meals at home for their families.

“Even the staff has developed closer relationships as we cook, laugh and eat together,” she said.