A middle school class prepares a vegetable feast | Schools

A dozen Miami middle school students watched from a front-row seat on Wednesday as Professor Victor Zapari whipped up pesto with a food processor and made a leafy green garnish for garlic toast.

Although all eyes were on Zapari, he insisted his role was minimal.

“You’ve grown all of our plants,” he told the roughly two dozen students sitting in the garlic-scented classroom.

Plants such as basil, arugula, cilantro and fennel flourished in the classroom’s two tower gardens, which are each equipped with four indoor LED grow lights.

Along with culinary activities, the gardens provided teachings on topics such as photosynthesis and ecosystems.

Several colleges in Fort Wayne Community Schools have received tower gardens purchased with a Healthy Schools Grant from the Indiana State Department of Health’s Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity. Miami’s first tower garden arrived in the fall of 2020, and another was added this academic year, teacher Allison White said.

“We would love to have a third one,” she said, watching Zapari prepare the morning snack.

Students at White and Zapari are enrolled in the Applied Skills Special Education Program, vice principal Jeffrey King said, noting that students typically have cognitive impairments.

Educators try “to open children’s minds to different foods,” Zapari said. He made multiple references to vegan dishes while cooking, suggesting that the class then prepare vegan macaroni and cheese.

“Vegan food is pretty delicious, guys,” he said.

While Zapari cooked, White regularly asked questions that showed the students that they weren’t forced to follow rigid recipes.

“How do you know how much garlic to add, Mr. Z?” White asked.

“I’m just flying it, Mrs. White,” he replied.

The lessons don’t end there. White, whose topics include independent living, said the gardening project could inspire students to ask where arugula and dill are in grocery stores. If stores run out of what they’re looking for, she says, students can practice self-advocacy skills by having the manager stock the items.

In class, students were quick to help Zapari when asked or to line up for samples. They seemed to like what Zapari offered them. Ariel Jamison and Sofia Mustak were among those who rated the activity as good.

White encouraged the students to eat every bite.

“I see green on your plate,” she told more than one student. “Go ahead and knock him out, sir.”

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