Inaugural event engages parents across the district

culinary student shares food to boy“Love people. Cook them tasty food.”

“Good food is all the sweeter when shared with good friends.”

“Cooking is love made visible.”

Whether it’s pizza, lo mein, a beef patty, a samosa, or fried chicken with macaroni and cheese, nothing brings people together like good food. A meal shared with a potential business partner can start a relationship that may prove to be worth millions. Holiday meals serve as a reason to see family members and celebrate good will.

At DeKalb County School District (DCSD), meals are also being used to start an ongoing conversation with parents and families.

DCSD’s Parent & Family Engagement Department invited families districtwide to the inaugural Taste of DeKalb event on November 26 at Tucker High School. The event, heralded as “A Celebration of Taste & Culture within the DeKalb County School District,” featured Italian, American, Haitian, Asian, Middle-Eastern, and Caribbean cuisine, as well as opportunities for fellowship.

According to Cleveland Dollison, facilitator with Parent & Family Engagement, the event is designed to extend a warm welcome to international students and families. Dollison said the event linked cultural studies and literacy by describing each nation’s cuisine on the menu.

“In my 22 years of education, I’ve noticed that international families tend to shun upon different ‘corporate’ things for Family Engagement, so we tried to do something different to get them out and make them feel involved,” Dollison said. “Food is the commonality no matter where you’re from. We can always break bread together.”

middle easter food on tableFood can start conversation, allow people to sit together for an extended period, and get to know one another, Dollison said. The end result, he hopes, is to let attendees know their input and involvement is welcome at DeKalb County School District.

According to Parent & Family Engagement manager Marcia Coward, having an internationally themed night has been in the works for quite some time.

“DeKalb is a very diverse community. This is an opportunity to embrace our international families, and to get them to come celebrate with us,” Coward said. “So often we never think about the diversity of DeKalb County, whether it’s a different way of learning, the foods we eat, or what various families do to support children. This is an intentional opportunity for us to say, ‘You’re a part of our family.’”

Coward seconded Dollison’s sentiment that food connects people from different nations—both in DeKalb County and beyond.

“I have yet to explore a culture that does not connect with food,” Coward said. “Food is a great equalizer for me. Food is always used for fellowship no matter what culture you go into. Food is an easy way for us to embrace each other’s cultures. Food can create opportunities to build relationships and trust with our families—and that’s what ‘family engagement’ is all about.”

Coward hopes the event showed families in DeKalb County, especially international families, that the district cares about their needs. She hoped to hear specific concerns while dining with various families.

According to her, issues that are common for international families include language, transportation, and overall cultural differences. While education may look one way in one country, American education often appears quite different. She advised that educators do what they can to identify who their students are, what their students’ cultures look like, and understand where each student is environmentally, mentally, and emotionally.

3 moms sit at table with food“Differences in culture should not be a barrier to the education of our children,” Coward said. “We need to bridge the gap with our international families. They need to understand that they are welcome in our schools and are part of the overall process. That has been a difficult transition for a lot of parents. Some parents, especially in our refugee communities, don’t even know what school in America looks like. We want them to know that it’s okay to participate, and important to participate.”

Food for the event also helped sharpen the skills of culinary students at Tucker High. A handful of students served attendees various foods, which included meals prepared on site by Tucker head chef Allysa McCarthy, as well as items donated from Sam’s Club and local restaurants such as American Deli, Grecian Gyro, and Dollison’s Events.

Parent & Family Engagement also hosted DCSD parents at Family Matters: Game Night at the Robert R. Freeman Administrative & Instructional Complex on November 28.