Multimedia Journalist

Cookin’ Crusaders learn food, life skills in new Helias classroom

Classrooms are often more than desks, chairs and books.

About twice a week, Helias Catholic High School’s Cookin’ Crusaders go into the kitchen to develop skills that will take them beyond high school.

Elizabeth Twyman serves as the school’s accommodations coordinator. For five years, her department has ensured lower-level learners have classes in applied religion, art, English and study skills catering to their needs.

“We just saw a need there based on the students who were interested in coming to Helias,” Twyman said. “We kind of shifted that conversation of, ‘We can’t provide this service to you’ to ‘How can we best provide this service to you?’”

The district added life skills programs in the 2018-19 school year for general education students and lower-level students who typically respond better to hands-on activities, Principal Kenya Fuemmeler said.

This year, local donations allowed the program to turn a former teachers’ break room into a life skills classroom kitchen with appliances and other necessities.

“Everything we do here within our accommodations department and with our special (education) kids is not federally funded,” Twyman said. “A life skills class in a public school is federally funded. Everything we do here is funded because the people in our community believe in what we’re doing. I think that says a lot about our community and a lot about the importance of the program because people are buying into it.”

The Jefferson City and Blair Oaks R-2 public school districts offer courses for cooking, parenting, and other skills to general and special education students.

Last week, six Helias students began preparing biscuits and gravy following a recipe on the board. Tasks for measuring flour and milk, reading instructions, pre-heating the oven and setting the table were distributed throughout the room.

Elaina Verslues sliced oranges and prepped biscuits on an ungreased baking sheet with Grace Theroff.

Learning to cook is fun, Theroff said.

Heather Distler, who said the best part of the class is eating the finished product, combined the milk and flour. After school, she practices cooking the breakfast items they’ve done in class with her mom.

Dylan Todd began cooking the sausage with assistance from paraprofessional Jennifer Gerber. Todd hopes to work in the hospitality industry one day.

When the students aren’t cooking, they work on budgeting, meal planning, navigation and job skills, which are important for students at any level to be functional members of their community, Gerber said.

While some students take college entry exams, students with special accommodations tour local businesses to learn what career skills they may need in the future.

Students also volunteer around the school in the library or office taking inventory, working as a team and building stronger communication skills — all transferable skills to the job market, Twyman said.

“All of them have a variety of goals outside of school,” she said. “So it’s important that we make sure they’re learning things to their specific level.”

Finding creative ways to engage the students is critical for their retention and safety outside of the classroom, she added.

“Not knowing how much something costs or not knowing how much you should get back in change, someone could easily take advantage of you,” Twyman said.

The program is expected to double from its current six students to 12 next year, she said.

Future plans may include selling baked goods in the school and picking a cause to donate the profits toward.

For now, the students will move on to adding lunch items to their agenda.

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