Ray Elementary School participates in inaugural food summit

Staff Writer

A third-grade class at Ray Elementary School, 5631 S. Kimbark Ave, this week participated in food education demonstration as a part of an inaugural Food Education Summit hosted by Pilot Light.

Pilot Light is a Chicago-based not-for-profit that assists children in making healthier choices through connecting the lessons they learn in the classroom to food they eat at home, school, and in their community.

Ray third-grade teacher, Chandra Garcia-Kitch led her students through a social science lesson on the importance of balance in what they eat and farming practices through the Legend of Three Sisters.

Students in Garcia-Kitch’s class are studying the early inhabitants of Illinois.
Garcia-Kitch also provided a live demonstration in her classroom using a new mobile teaching kitchen created by Pilot Light that helps support the lesson.

She and her students made Succotash using recipes that they developed as a class. Some of the ingredients featured included squash, zucchini, corn, garlic, and Nori, which is seaweed.

Through Pilot Light, students are learning to try different food groups, said Garcia-Kitch, and it is helping to broaden the palettes of students who are picky eaters.

“I have one student who only eats Lays potato chips, hot dogs, and ribs…because [Pilot Light] is a part of his curriculum he’s eaten kiwi, zucchini, green beans, corn, apples and part of a star fruit,” Garcia-Kitch said.

About 30 national food and nutrition experts including Dr. Pamela Koch, executive director of Tisch Center for Food and Nutrition; Dr. Katie Wilson, former USDA Under Secretary; and local chef Matthias Merges, owner of A10 restaurant, 1462 E. 53rd St., joined Garcia-Kitch during the demonstration.

The mission of the summit is to “discuss what children need to know about food to have healthy relationships with food throughout their lives,” said Alexandra DeSorbo-Quinn, executive director at Pilot Light. “They [students] have the opportunity to try new things and take that home to their parents.”

Ray Principal Megan Thole said the biggest benefit for the program is student engagement.

“Students love doing this,” Thole said. “Our teachers have gotten to be incredibly creative about how they’ve implemented the different lessons and how they’ve been able to connect it to other pieces of instruction regardless of content area.”

In the coming weeks Garcia-Kitch’s students will “come up with a recipe using fall ingredients. Their job is to use the Pilot Light kitchen to make a snack for their class and share their recipe, and they will choose their own sous chef.”

Pilot Lunch was founded in 2010 by award-winning Chicago chefs, education and health professionals. Last year, Pilot Light launched the Institute for Food Education, fifteen teachers from six Chicago Public Schools (CPS) worked together to support children in making healthier choices.

Teachers in the Institute complete 40 hours of professional development and also receive continuing education credits and a stipend for their time.

Teachers in the program created curriculum, built food-sourcing plans for their classrooms, conducted school and community inventories, and designed student-initiated food advocacy programs.

“Our goal is to build every teacher’s capacity to teach about food within their curriculum on a regular basis,” said DeSorbo-Quinn.

Garcia-Kitch is a Pilot Light teacher and board member. This is her third school year with Pilot Light.

Fourth, fifth, and sixth-grade teachers at Ray who are also Pilot Light teachers will use the mobile test kitchen for their lessons.

Pilot Light this school year expanded to eight additional schools a majority of which are on the south side of the city. The program will service 51 teachers and about 1,500 students.