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Students study the world through food

Ellen Stevens said the students in her Foods of the World class were slightly skeptical about trying food from the Middle East. Staff photo by Amber Kispert.

Students spend years learning about the countries of the world in their social studies and history classes. But one class is giving them a taste of what those cultures are like. That's the goal in Ellen Stevens' "Foods of the World" class at East Ridge High School -- a class also offered at Park and Woodbury high schools.

"The class is all about incorporating culture into something the kids are already familiar with which is food," Stevens said. "We just travel around the world," Stevens said.

Recently, Stevens' students studied the cultures of the Middle East and prepared two dishes, on Oct. 26-27, from Pakistan -- rice pilaf and potato cutlets.

Additionally, Stevens said she decided to tie in a service learning project with the unit, which is why her students also wrote letters on Oct. 28 to currently deployed soldiers.

"I think it's really important to incorporate service learning into the classroom," Stevens said.

Traveling the world through food

Now in its second year at East Ridge High School, "Foods of the World" has students research the various cuisines and cultures in countries around the globe.

"The biggest benefit of the class is that we are really preparing students to be global citizens," Stevens said. "No matter what career they go into, they are going to be dealing with people from around the world."

Some of the units most popular with the students are those that featured cuisines from China, Mexico and Italy, Stevens said.

But some students have been hesitant about trying foods they cook from other cultures, which is what makes the class so beneficial, Stevens said.

"Students start realizing a lot of the rumors aren't true and that there is something to these cultures," she said.

Understanding the war

Stevens said the letters that students wrote to soldiers overseas was tied to the unit on Middle East cuisine because of the fact that so many soldiers are still serving in Afghanistan, Iraq and other nearby countries.

"I really just want the students to understand this region of the world because it is so misunderstood," she said.

The unit began with students researching Middle Eastern culture and Middle Eastern foods.

"We started by just getting a feel for what the cultures actually eat," she said. "It's just bringing the world into the classroom and taking a real holistic view."

In addition to having the students research some of the cultures in countries of the Middle East, Stevens said she also turned to several of her students, whose families are from that part of the world, for guidance.

After making contact with Sgt. Cory Hayes, of the Army National Guard, the students began doing specific war research so that they can better understand what conditions the soldiers are living in.

Last Thursday, while the students were writing their letters, Hayes, and Sgt. Melissa Evans, came into the classroom to talk about their experiences in the war.

"The students just need to be aware of all of this because our soldiers are really making a sacrifice," Stevens said.

Stevens said she is hoping to obtain grant money so that she can send the letters overseas.

Stevens said she hopes that this project can continue for future classes because it is so important to expose the students to the world around them.

"The students will be paying attention when they are watching the news with their parents now," she said. "They know these various things now and those are things that the average adolescent just does not know because they are not informed .

"I'm trying to have informed students."

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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