Hands-on learning: Elementary students prepare and serve a tasty meal at Pybus Public Market
With a little bit of cash and some creative thinking, teachers in our region find ways to bring unique learning opportunities to students. One of the region’s innovative teachers is Tina Nicpan Brown, the 2022 regional teacher of the year for the North Central Educational Service District and a teacher at the Wenatchee Internet Academy.
Brown is a master at figuring out ways to engage students through hands-on learning projects, such as winter and spring camp experiences for students at Lake Wenatchee YMCA camp.
Early this week, I was treated to a lunch of lasagne, salad and breadsticks at Pybus Public Market prepared by 4th, 5th and 6th graders at Wenatchee Internet Academy, funded by a $300 grant from the North Central Education Foundation. Those funds were used to purchase Pybus Bucks for the kids to shop for the meal ingredients at the market’s vendors.
Chef Heather Ostensen volunteered her time to develop the menu and help guide the kids through preparing the salad, making the dressing and creating the lasagne. The kids even made their own cheese, I was told. Students used math skills to convert measurements and figure out how to adapt the recipe to the number of people they would be feeding.
When the preparations were done and the lasagne came out of the oven, the students set the table with silverware lent by the Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center, and served the meal. A few community members were on hand to share a meal and conversation with the kids. I was lucky enough to be at a table with four lively youngsters and we chatted about school, summer plans and life in general. A couple of my tablemates were taking violin lessons, which brought back memories of my own music experience in elementary school. It was a delightful experience.
Other community members at the lunch included JoAnn Walker (the Pybus Foundation donated the use of the commercial kitchen for the event) and Eldene Wall, who runs the Education Foundation.
The kids were focused, paid attention to directions and worked together to create and serve the meal, including folding cloth napkins to look like flowers. I wish more students had the opportunity to participate in this kind of project. Community members love to be part of efforts like this because there’s nothing more rewarding than rubbing elbows with youngsters. The project didn’t cost the school district any money because Brown tapped into the generosity of the community as well as the shared dedication to engage constructively with students.
Brown, who in her “spare time” is in the process of getting her PhD, has put on this student-prepared event for three years, with a two-year hiatus because of Covid. She’s a masterful creator of innovative, hands-on students projects that bring relevance to the student learning experience. Firing the imaginations of students is something she’s passionate about.
Brown is not alone in her creativity. During my years as a board member of the Education Foundation, we funded dozens of wonderful grant proposals every year to teachers like Brown who put their hearts and souls into figuring out where kids were emotionally and intellectually, meeting them there and helping them take the next steps. We sometimes forget that for learning to happen, it’s essential that kids feel loved and safe. That’s what every good teacher does. The difficulty is that there are a lot of kids who struggle and when they are exposed to these unique learning experiences, they walk away with life experiences that help them see what is possible.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could find more ways for schools to tap into the creativity of their teachers. Education, after all, isn’t a process of inputting knowledge and outputting test scores, or at least it shouldn’t be. Imagine what would be possible if our school systems focused on unleashing their creativity and in so doing fostered a culture of innovative learning.
Hanging out with world-class educators like Brown and the students who get fired up by creative education give me great hope and confidence in our future.
You can support hands-on learning by making contributions to the North Central Educational Foundation’s teacher grant program. For more information, check out ncesd.org/about-us/north-central-education-foundation