Contributor: Sahba Rohani, Director of Community Development at Community Roots
On Thursday evenings, I help coordinate a cooking class (COOKS) for families. It's an intentionally small group, maybe 10 or so, and we always start with some sort of community builder - a way to connect.
"What role has food played in your life and in your family?" The adults pair up, most of whom don't know each other by anything more than a vague smile, or a quick nod of the head in the hallway. But each of those grown-ups has chosen to send their child to a desegregated public school, and understand what that means for them in being the parents and guardians of these children. “If I want my child to know people who are different than they are, if I expect my child to build relationships across race and class lines, then I better be willing to do that myself.” So here they are, on a Thursday evening, without their children, building community.
"Today I chose to show you guys how to make 'Kugel,'" a Kindergarten father says, as most of the group makes confused faces and a lot of - "what is that?" - goes around the circle. "I used to work in a Jewish nursing home, and we would make this all the time for the residents. So I want to share it with you." The next 20 minutes are filled with laughter, chit-chat, and mixing of ingredients.
Then it comes time to try it. "I don't know, I'm not sure I want to try that." It's only silent for a second before another parent chimes in, "Well - TRY NEW THINGS! That's one of our Core Values! If we want our kids to do it, we need to do it too!"
She is referring to one of our six core values, the essential principles that lay the foundation for who we are as a school. Values that, over time, have become increasingly more important in creating a shared language round which the school's community is built.
More laughter fills the room as the family members nod - "yeah, yeah, you're right." They dig into the Kugel which, by the way, is a smashing success. Through this experience, families are able to participate in the culture of the school in a very real, very tangible way. They are not talking about being involved or trying to figure out their place in the school community, they are co-creating the school community together.
As we ended our most recent session of COOKS, we stood in a circle and each person shared one word or phrase that they wanted to leave the group with. One parent shared, “Listen, you all know me now. So when you see me in the hallways and outside school, come and say hi. We are family now.”
And in that one comment, the long term effects of these activities was encapsulated.