A few days ago I volunteered to teach a nutrition class to a group of 3rd and 4th graders in a Bronx public school. I teamed up with a young chef, and together, we presented the students with some basic nutrition and then recruited their help to cut up apples and make applesauce.
I had never been to the Bronx before so I was pleasantly surprised to see that the classrooms looked bright and cheerful and the students seemed well put together in their black and yellow uniforms and appeared relatively quiet and well behaved. Nothing seemed out of place until I learned shortly after arriving that actually a good percentage of the students lived in a nearby homeless shelter and that, upon leaving, I was strongly advised not to wait outside for a taxi because the neighborhood was too “rough”.
So as I began my nutrition class and started talking about the benefits of carbohydrates, I found myself stopping in mid-sentence. Did these kids really care to know what happens to a whole grain during processing? I put aside the “suggested” lesson plan and decided to talk about things that seemed more relevant. This charming and engaging group of kids loved hearing about why eating breakfast could help them stay focused in school and give them energy, how eating vitamin-rich foods could keep their hair shiny and their muscles strong and they were curious to know everything about the apples; where they came from and what all the different varieties looked like. They were eager to chop the apples and took immediate ownership of the applesauce they helped make.
In nutrition, we are taught to teach to our audience because no two people or groups are the same. If I didn’t grasp that concept before, I certainly did now. In the end, when we asked the kids what they learned from our lesson, most of them proudly said “how to make applesauce” as they tucked a copy of the recipe under their arm. For me, the best moment of that lesson was seeing them happily lick every last bit of applesauce off their bowl. I think they were as happy to have us there as we were to be there!
– Ilaria St. Florian