Oakcliff Elementary Cooking Club

Chopping, dicing, preparing and cooking ingredients into a filling, tasty meal is not something the average elementary student can do.

At Oakcliff Elementary School in the DeKalb County School District (DCSD), however, it’s something more than a dozen students are familiar with.

Students in the Oakcliff Elementary Cooking Club, headed by pre-kindergarten teacher Candace Lee, come together every Tuesday afternoon to show off their skills in fine dining. Since the club’s founding at the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year, first and second grade students have cooked hummus, fruit salsa, vegetable skewers, smoothies, trail mix, guacamole, pancakes, wraps and more.

oakcliff-cooking“The club started as a way to get kids to eat healthy and to write,” said Lee. “It’s a fun club but students get academic help, too. We try to show them how to use new foods in new ways. It’s empowering to them to take charge in what they eat.”

Students in Oakcliff’s cooking club also receive exposure to kitchen utensils, tools, measuring devices and recipes. By the end of the year, many students can follow a recipe and make a dish independently.

“We start off being very hands on,” Lee said. “By the end, students are actually reading it, cooking, seeing what they’re doing. Students are always excited about it. We’re here to try new things.”

Throughout the week, students see Lee in the halls and ask her what’s in store for them on Tuesday afternoon.

According to Lee, students are often hesitant about trying new foods but find they are mistaken by the end of each cooking session. While students begin as apprehensive toward cinnamon, zucchini, beets or squash, they often crave more when it is time to leave.

“We understand that they’re not going to like everything we make, but we encourage them to try it,” Lee said. “Most of the time they really like it. Either way, they enjoy cooking club.”

Lee said Cooking Club at Oakcliff Elementary enriches student vocabulary and curiosities while also connecting to the world at large. The club’s collaboration with the Oakcliff Garden Club—who supplies fresh arugula, vegetables and spices—also exposes the students to what goes into each meal.

oakcliff-cooking-2“Sometimes, especially when working with English language learners, you overlook even the most minute details and don’t realize students may not even have a word like ‘kiwi’ in their vocabulary,” she said. “We fill in those gaps. When we’re doing our writing piece, it makes students think about what they have done. With the math they use to measure everything, it’s very applicable to life.”

Oakcliff principal Delores Paschall said the Oakcliff Cooking Club plants seeds for healthy lifestyles.

“The Cooking Club here at Oakcliff has been a very beneficial aspect to our students,” she said. “It teaches them nutrition practices. In a lot of our students’ homes, coming from impoverished neighborhoods, they may not know a lot about that. I’m glad our teachers are giving them an opportunity to explore it.”