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Cooking with Kindness Club at Deep River Elementary School: Serving Up Friendship and Understanding with a Side of Cooking Skills

Students work to make Apple Pie Bites in Deep River's Cooking with Kindness ClassWhat might have seemed like an ordinary end-of-the-day afternoon to many observers outside Deep River Elementary School this past Wednesday was anything but ordinary for a group of about 24 students, along with a handful of teachers and support staff at the school. This afternoon marked the second meeting of the school's new "Cooking with Kindness" club—a group dedicated to learning cooking skills with a mission to foster understanding and friendship between students, both with and without disabilities.

"The idea originated from the Unified Champion School Program with Special Olympics. They gave us the freedom to choose what we wanted to do," explained Madisyn Clark, one of the Exceptional Children (EC) teachers at the school. "We could have started a sports club or any kind of club that promoted inclusivity. However, we discovered that many of our kids were interested in cooking. Since it was not already offered at the school, we decided to go with that."

As the group gathered in the EC classroom for their meeting, students were assisted in putting on their cooking aprons that proudly displayed the motto "Partner Up - Power Up," a slogan for Special Olympics of North Carolina and their Project Unify initiative. Students collaborated to prepare the Apple Pie Bites recipe that Ms. Clark and Ms. Bullard had planned for the day.

Smiles were not in short supply as students assisted each other in sprinkling brown sugar and apple pie spice on their crescent rolls before wrapping a slice of a Granny Smith Apple in the middle. Clark emphasized, "The kids' response has been the best thing so far. They're learning to measure things and collaborate with one another. They always come in so excited about our meetings."

Clark pointed out, "It is amazing to see our kids with special needs and the general student population working together, regardless of the differences and challenges each may face." She continued, "After just a few meetings, we can already see the participating students are more understanding of our special needs population. It has enabled them to understand that although we are all different, we can work together to reach the same goal.”

The interactions between students with and without disabilities have been a significant benefit for all students in the group, providing a tremendous opportunity to better understand others. Clark shared an occasion where a student asked her why a non-verbal student could not respond to their questions. The staff used this question as a teachable moment for the whole group. "It gave us the opportunity to have the conversation that some students may face different challenges, but no matter what those might be, we can promote an inclusive environment throughout everything we do. We plan to spread this awareness as a whole school when we host our school-wide inclusive campaign day on March 6th.”

After a break to write thank-you notes to Special Olympics for the aprons they donated to the club, the piping hot Apple Pie Bites made their appearance from the oven. As the smell of cinnamon and brown sugar wafted through the room, some of the club's less adventurous students were encouraged by their peers to give the Apple Pie Bites a chance. Most did, and just as they were entering the room to see their friends in "Cooking with Kindness," their faces revealed they were quite glad they had taken the chance.

EC Teacher Madisyn Clark works with students in Deep River's Cooking with Kindness Club to make Apple Pie Bites

James Alverson