Reading and math brought alive through cooking

In an intense intervention class at Elkhart Memorial, students learn more than information from a textbook – they learn the everyday skills to help prepare them for life after graduation, including cooking.

Led by special education teachers Franki Hawkins, Don Knowlton, and a team of strong paraprofessionals, about 15 students each Tuesday and Thursday experience a creative way to mix reading and math with life skills through cooking.

The idea to combine these areas of instruction came to Hawkins, and she further developed the idea after a discussion with Knowlton. Their collaboration is one that goes back to 2010 when Hawkins was a junior at Elkhart Memorial and a student assistant for Knowlton. After completing her degree at Austin Peay State University in Tennessee, Hawkins returned to Elkhart Memorial to work as a teacher alongside her mentor. She credits his support, as well as the support of a phenomenal group of paraprofessionals, for bringing the life skill of cooking to the students.

“Students gain so much out of this experience,” says Hawkins. “Not only are they learning how to cook, but they are gaining independence and confidence.”

Students are currently studying the book Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and working on learning how to cook meatballs, with plans for learning spaghetti down the road.

“Once a month, we also prepare a meal for staff,” says Hawkins. “It’s all student-run, with help from our paraprofessionals. We set up a Google doc for our staff to place their orders and our students create flyers to help spread the word. Once all of the orders are in, they total the orders and head to the supermarket to buy supplies. Then they set up their assembly lines and create the orders. They deliver the orders throughout the school, collecting the money.”

“This activity shows them so much about the real world,” says Knowlton. “These are experiences they can take with them to the job field. They learn math, technology, sorting, food prep, order fulfillment, and money handling. I really credit our staff with getting our kids ready for the real world. I wish the community could see how hard-working our students are, how willing and able they are to work, and how capable they are of succeeding in the job field.”

Both Hawkins and Knowlton agree – focusing on the positive makes a world of difference for their students.