Using design thinking to cultivate community outside the middle school classroom

Sizzling pork shoulder in adobo sauce, warmed up corn tortillas, expertly diced tomatoes and a roasted garlic that you can almost smell. No, this is not Taco Chronicles on Netflix. I’m watching a teacher’s video chat room and this is the menu tonight on his new cooking show.

Video chatting is the newest technology being widely implemented in classrooms as teachers adjust to remote learning, but this also means they need to adjust to new ways of engaging students and connecting with families. By now we’ve all experienced the awkwardness of joining a video chat with new people, waiting your turn to introduce yourself, and forgetting to turn your mic off mute when the time finally comes so everyone is yelling at you to turn your mic on. These uncomfortable and sometimes technologically frustrating moments can deter students and parents from participating in the new virtual classroom. In an effort to help teachers stay connected with their school community, one Compton middle school technology teacher created a virtual cooking show over video chat.

As we’re training teachers and their students with the concepts of design thinking and having an entrepreneurial mindset, it’s important that we practice what we preach. A main component of that training is using empathy to inform ourselves about our user’s problem so we can empathize with them and then present solutions they are asking for. The main problem for all teachers right now has been how to meaningfully engage with students and their families. Many of us are missing our family, friends, work colleagues, and students. By creating unique opportunities for connection, like this cooking show, we can help alleviate some of that stress and help school communities feel supported.

The Davis Middle School cooking show started out when teachers were having trouble accounting for all their students during class. Jose Gonzales, the creator and host of the show, regularly calls his school community “family”. But their family was disconnected and disengaged, and Mr. Gonzales needed something to motivate his students and help them feel like a family again. A cooking show seemed like the perfect way to engage parents and students outside of the school curriculum while also sharing with each other more personally. Seeing a need in his community for connection and being unafraid to accept the challenge, Gonzales hosted the first show making his own recipe for Cuban Picadillo.

In an email, Gonzales said, “The show was meant as an outreach for parents to express themselves and relieve the stress they were having…I have learned that the show is also a place to provide parents with information and knowledge that could assist them. It has been wonderful to see our parents volunteer for the show and see them grow. Our parent: Mrs. Ramirez is a fine example; I remember she was nervous for the first show at Bunche, when she volunteered a Davis, she was already a pro!”

Since the first show, Gonzales has been able to convince parents and volunteers to share their own recipes for the show. Some of the recipes shared include: Pupusas, Cajun Pasta, Carnitas and Pico De Gallo Salsa. These recipes serve as a tool and incentive to connect and learn from each other. Gonzales explained, “I felt that if our parents were healthy both physically and emotionally, then our students would be as well, a stable home is the best remedy for our kids. I strongly believe that education is about building relationships with our students, teachers, parents and stakeholders. The relationships we build with our parents outside the classroom is what gives us teachers success in the classroom.”

As a recent chef featured on the show, it was exciting and heartwarming to see teachers and parents figure out an innovative way to connect and share their cultures. By sharing in the act of cooking in our home kitchens, we got to share intimate moments and stories with the teachers we serve. Through our partnership with Davis Middle School, we work with teachers to provide curriculum and training in STEM technology. While I’m very comfortable conducting a training about virtual reality apps and 3D modeling software, I had no idea what to expect when doing a cooking show from my own kitchen. But I could immediately see upon joining the call that Mr. Gonzales would be a gracious host and the parents were excited to participate. More people joined the call and soon we had 3 full screens of faces watching the show.

My colleague and fellow program coordinator and chef, Sabrina Sue Le explained the impact she felt from the show, “I felt that it was a wonderful way to connect. My family definitely grew that day! I have always associated food with family and the Davis cooking show really made me feel like I was a part of theirs. Jose and the parents were so welcoming, and it gave us an outlet and opportunity to share something special with others during a very difficult time. These connections are imperative and remind us that we are not alone and can really find strength in others and our community.”

Davis Middle School is in an underserved community with a large Latino population. Many students come from households where one or both parents only speak Spanish. This presents a unique problem for the show: all the shows had to be done in Spanish or translated live for the parents. Luckily, I was able to translate most of what I was doing because Spanish was my first language. Other guests on the show had a fellow teacher translate for them. However, doing this had an added effect of helping the parents who viewed the show feel more invested in their child’s school community through a shared connection.

Le elaborates on this idea, “For some this may have been a small cooking show but for me, my family, and our team it was a very big deal! It was a glimmer of hope and a safe space to come together. Teachers, parents, students, and their communities are being asked so much of them…it was so nice to show up and give back in this way. Virtual events like the Davis cooking show allow us to foster and sustain long lasting meaningful relationships with our partner schools and the communities they serve. I truly believe that those investments transfer into opportunities of success for everyone involved.”

In a recent story for Now This, a parent featured on the show talked about why the cooking show helped her to feel more connected: “For me, it’s very important because it’s what I grew up with…I have a niece that’s always telling me, ‘Oh tía, this was so delicious, your food tastes so good’…and that makes you feel good because you see how you’re passing down your traditions, culture, and customs to the younger generations in your family.”

The show has gained strong community support and was recently featured on Telemundo’s Pizarrón 52 show. For now, it will be continuing over video chat for the parents of Davis Middle School and then shared where we can watch it grow on Mr. Gonzales’ YouTube channel.

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