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Rashkis Cooks More Than Ramen

On the evening of April 29, the Rashkis Elementary School (RES) PTA hosted a virtual cooking class called “Rashkis Cooks More Than Ramen,” and by all accounts, it was a great success for families and organizers alike. The planning and preparation took months, and in that process of designing a class to highlight simple, healthy dishes, a new model of school-based, district-supported family engagement debuted.

During “normal” years, the CHCCS PTA’s plan numerous events for fundraising and community building; many events take place on site at the schools, and other events happen in public spaces. Even though the pandemic put a substantial strain on such efforts, many PTA’s buckled down to find creative and innovative ways to continue their work through virtual events.

RES PTA Co-Vice President, Laura Horrigan, only moved to Chapel Hill in August 2019, and this is her first year serving on the PTA Board. Last fall, she noticed a North Carolina PTA newsletter article about Healthy Schools Mini-Grants, and she thought it might be relevant to future initiatives at RES. Horrigan asked her fellow board members about pursuing a grant. “The board said as far as they knew, we hadn’t ever applied for a grant, but to go for it!” she said.

A conversation with RES school social worker, Carlie Ewen, led Horrigan to contact Director of Dining, Liz Cartano, and Executive Director of Public School Foundation, Madeline Blobe.  “It was Liz who came up with the initial idea to do a school-based virtual event for Rashkis families with the funding from the grant going towards a food kit.  Liz then put me in touch with Lynne Privette with Chartwells and the Food for Students Team and after many emails and phone calls, the Rashkis Cooks More Than Ramen program was born,” Horrigan said.

Horrigan had never written a grant application before, but she submitted it in November, and in January the PTA learned RES was one of seven schools to receive a NCPTA grant. “From there, Lynne and I worked diligently throughout the winter and spring to put the program into place, working with the amazing the Food for Students/Chartwell team, Rashkis staff and wonderful parent volunteers.”

RES cooking classOne of the PTA’s goals from the beginning was to create an event that would specifically reach and welcome segments of the parent population who often don’t participate in school wide events. In the conversations Horrigan and Privette had with Ewen, they were able to identify the Food For Students neighborhoods to target, to ensure the information and permissions were translated into the languages spoken by the RES families in those communities. The initial letters explaining “Rashkis Cooks More Than Ramen” went out in English, Spanish, Karen and Burmese, and those were the languages the recipes for broccoli salad and pumpkin cranberry overnight oats were translated into. A school-wide open sign-up was also done through PTA social media and with the assistance of RES Principal, Tiffany Newsome, in her weekly message.

More than 40% of identified families ended up participating, with 58 students/31 families choosing to opt-in to receive a bag of fresh ingredients, cooking tools, children’s books with a food theme, translated recipe cards and, last but not least, chef hats for each student. A group of RES parent volunteers packed the boxes of ingredients, and five volunteers delivered them to the families the day of the event.

broccoli saladNearly three dozen children joined the live Google Meet to cook with RES Child Nutrition staff, Kim Alston, and manager Donetta Evans, who served as emcee for the event. Evans’ daughter, fifth grade student Ja’Miya, shined as a guest chef. Privette said that team worked seamlessly, as if they “had practiced for days! I love how we all worked together to make it happen! This is an amazing feat, and one that I hope helps provide healthy, easy recipes families in our communities can make,” Privette said.

“I feel lucky to have been a part of this program and was so happy with the enthusiasm from the Rashkis community to participate!” Horrigan said. “And thank you to the North Carolina PTA for the funding to make this child and family-centered event possible.”

“I am really happy to have supported our team in this work! Creating opportunities for our students to do something fun and to develop a life skill while doing it is a win-win for me!” Newsome said.

Enjoy this slide show about “Rashkis Cooks More Than Ramen”!