Village Project and Harvest Table: A Recipe For Teaching Math Skills

It takes a village project group photo

“This partnership between Harvest Table Culinary Group employees and Elon’s It Takes a Village Project is simply wonderful. Everyone, from our District Manager to our Executive Chef, and all the other folks involved in our ‘using cooking to teach math initiative’ immediately grabbed hold of the vision. They have all eagerly decided to do their part to make the effort a success. We are looking forward to seeing where the initiative goes from here.”
–Jean Rattigan-Rohr, Ph.D.

Executive Director, Community Partnerships & Director, Center for Access and Success, Elon University

“When you meet Dr. Rohr you will see that her large personality is always thinking big.”
–Laura Thompson, Resident District Manager, Harvest Table Culinary Group at Elon University

A partnership between Elon University’s It Takes a Village Project (Village Project) and the University’s dining team, Harvest Table Culinary Group, is enhancing the education and well-being of local elementary school students while fostering community outreach.

Elon’s Village Project provides weekly tutoring sessions for Pre-K-12 students from communities surrounding the University. Roughly 300 public school students at a time take part in the program over eight weeks in the fall, eight weeks in the spring, and two weeks in the summer. The tutors are students from various academic disciplines at Elon, as well as several Elon faculty and staff members.

Elon’s Village Project began ten years ago and has grown from reading lessons to include music and science. Harvest Table provides support by serving 500 hot meals once a week to the children and their parents. Parents and children eat for free. Recently, Harvest Table took its involvement in the program to another level – providing culinary instruction for the kids.

This cooking instruction was the idea of Resident District Manager Laura Thompson, who sought to expand Harvest Table’s participation in the program beyond just serving meals. She brought her insight to Dr. Jean Rattigan-Rohr, Executive Director, Community Partnerships and Director of the Center for Access and Success. Dr. Rohr loved the ideas and together they collaborated on a program to use cooking to teach math skills to middle grade students. Executive Chef Jay Vetter created three recipes that the students learned to scale during the in-class component of the tutoring. Students also learned about fractions, measurements, and weights.

The Harvest Table team has always been thrilled to take part in the program and celebrated the end of the fall semester with a special event featuring age-appropriate classes focused on healthy cooking and eating. Roughly 400 guests—250 kids and their parents—attended the celebration. Grades kindergarten through fifth enjoyed a health-focused program led by Harvest Table’s registered dietitian. The students learned about MyPlate and the importance of eating a nutritional, balanced meal while sampling fruits, vegetables, and smoothies. They were invited to vote on their favorites and, according to Thompson, “There were a lot of smiling faces, a lot of laughs.”

Students in grades 6 through 12 were treated to a cooking class led by Chef Jay as other many other members of the Harvest Table team helped out as students built mason jars of soup, cornbread, and cake to take home and share with their families. They were able to put the math skills they worked on throughout the semester to use through measuring and weighing ingredients.

The event was a huge success.

Just as excited after the event as before, Dr. Rhor had this to say: “What an amazing night!!! On behalf of all the Village participants I just want to take the opportunity to say “THANK YOU” [to the Harvest Table team] for an excellent teaching by cooking event in the Village last night. I truly feel this is just a start of greater partnerships to come.”

Additionally, “What a great event you, Jean and both of your teams held last evening. I was so impressed with the excitement and energy in the room, especially the young people having such a good time—learning! Everyone’s efforts were a wonderful display of the experiential, inclusive learning we practice at Elon. The event joyfully connected Elon and Harvest Table to the broader community (while learning fractions and healthy eating principles!) and there is exponential pride in that, especially during the holiday season of giving. The smiling faces of the children and students will keep me warm for months to come.”, Dr. Connie Book, President, Elon University

Harvest Table Culinary Group is proud to partner with Elon’s It Takes a Village project, viewing it as a great example of their commitments to community and collaboration. The local team is also pleased to expand its participation to support the educational content and empower young students to better manage their own health.