Creating Disbelief: A Personalized Meal Served by Students

Christine Laurenzi is devoted to inspiring the next generation through personalized learning experiences. For nearly a decade, she has worked to challenge education’s status quo.​ As an award winning teacher and educational entrepreneur, she has energized learning by designing opportunities that empower​ students to pursue their individual interests at a high level, while connecting to and helping the community. Learn more about Christine and her school at Individualizededu.com.

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personalized meal
Photo by Indi-Ed

This post was originally published on Christine’s school website, individualizededu.com, and re-published on Learning Personalized with permission.

This past week was another of epic proportions. (I don’t prefer that word as of late but for this, it is all too accurate.)

I feel compelled to share all of the details because on multiple occasions I’ve heard comments of disbelief. “How did you get them to do that?” “This can’t be school?” While I began on a mission to create change in education, I’m aware that sometimes it begins with showing people how things can be done differently, so here goes.

First things first, we’re mobile! That’s right, on the go! No one telling us no! No obscene charges! No ridiculous requirements! If there’s learning to be done, our parents are informed, and we’re on our way out into the real world!

This was right before our initial voyage, picture snapped while PARKED. We had a good laugh because before we even left, we discussed safety, my focus having to be on the road, their responsibilities as safe passengers, what a privilege this is, etc. and one of those requirements was having our shortest ones to sit in the middle so I could see clearly to the back. Well when I said, “Initial Voyage! Smile!” I couldn’t even see our littlest one.

The reason for this first venture was because our kids were hosting our first “family meal”. Yes, each month our Indi-ED students and families will gather together for a meal-nothing more, nothing less. No curriculum to show, no agenda to tend to, no expectations other than to simply sit across from one another to chat and enjoy each other’s company.

As humans, our most basic needs have to be met in order for anything productive to happen, learning included. As an Indi-ED family, we are no different.

These superior humans have already started forming those relationships, but like any successful relationship, the bonds only remain strong if the relationship is positively fed and we make that a priority because not only are these people our students and their families, but they’re real life humans and they deserve to be treated as such.

Because our families do so much for us, our students were in charge of planning, preparing, and serving a meal TO THEM. We can’t expect our children to just know how to show respect, or how to exist in the real world, we have to give them opportunities to actually do it.

Here’s how we did it this time.

We began by brainstorming the purpose of serving a meal. The, “Why Bother?” Because simply telling them to do it, doesn’t create the understanding or buy-in.

Then we chatted about each of our families’ differences. Allergies to address, preferences, and themes that may fit for the occasion. Adults do that when they’re hosting so why shouldn’t kids?

personalized meal
Photo by Indi-Ed

After we determined our menu, we brainstormed a list of necessary ingredients. When we had them nailed down and before we even left for the store, we gave them a budget of $100.00 (yes, real money and a real budget) that they needed to stay under.

We also told them that any of the money that they didn’t spend, they could use it to buy anything they’d like for the school. (Yes, real incentives and real motivation, while teaching real world skills.) So they did a little comparison shopping online and started noticing different quantities, portions, brands, and realizing their price differences, etc. (Yes, just like we do as adults because now it wasn’t someone else’s money, it was theirs.)

They agreed to compromise that our younger cohort would do the shopping and our older cohort would do some of the more complicated preparation. So off we went!

We hit our local fruit stand first. 2 of them manned the lists and directed us to what we needed. 2 of them pushed the carts, 1 of them was in charge of making the appropriate selections, and another was in charge of keeping a mental estimation of how much we were spending. Constant engagement for all of them! Without a Marzano scale! (Teachers, you understand. I had to.)

After having real conversations about what was worth the splurge (big olives vs small), what was the more sensible purchase (peppers on sale with a little bruise vs not), and checking our lists to make sure that we had all of the ingredients. We were out of there with an entire cart filled and only $30 spent.

We then headed to Publix and they got a quick lesson on comparison. A few minutes in, 3 types of cheeses, and BAM almost $30 already. But being able to take a moment and allow them to actually peer into the cart to see for themselves is exactly how we learn differently! THEY had just put the other items in the cart and now THEY were able to see the differences for themselves. I didn’t do it for them, I simply guided their thinking to take notice.

A few BOGOs, a spin or two down the aisles, and we were out of there with everything that we needed with $8.00 to spare. Which was under budget but we still needed to buy gelato for dessert so unfortunately, no bunny this time. (That’s what they agreed they’d buy if they had $20 left over. Literally in minutes, mental math-done!)

We returned with our supplies and were greeted with a school makeover! The older cohort was busy at work transforming our space into a formal feasting establishment. I forgot to mention that the day prior, a few of us went to two formal restaurants and took notes about what a formal dining experience looks like. We were shown how to fold linen napkins, taught a bit of French, were able to practice our manners, handshakes and introductions, and shown how to actually set up a place setting. Something else you won’t learn in a typical school cafeteria.

Back to our makeover! The kids covered our tables, made place cards, made conversation starter lists, prepared menus, put flowers out, prepared a tree of joy with uplifting quotes so the families could take photos in front of it, cut out hearts for the entrance, punched them out for confetti on the tables, etc. the attention to detail was stunning. Cooperation leading to success here.

personalized meal
Photo by Indi-Ed

When we returned from recess, we began preparing the meal. Each child was given an appropriate task and we got to work. Our littlest ones prepping the salad, our older kids cutting veggies for the sauce, (again, yes-being monitored with real knives) the desserts, the appetizers, etc. By the end of the day, they were exhausted and one of them said, “Man! It’s like I’ve been at a real job.” ~L.M. While another one had the epiphany, “Planning a meal is hard work!”~R.H. Yes my loves, thank your parents when you get home!

Which leads us to the day of the meal. We spent the morning putting together the final details. More people attending, reviewing professional introductions, splitting up jobs, and reviewing how it would work as well as the purpose.

After 10 years, I know that kids rise to challenges when they see the value. But as the families began arriving, I was blown away. The ones who chose to dress up (yes, another way to show respect) greeted our families at the entrance. Another checked them in as another who is interested in photography snapped their family photo. One who is a talented musician played background music on his guitar and then they began serving them appetizers. As everyone was seated, my favorite part of the meal began.

That morning we discussed how family meals usually have one head of the family. How they usually sit at the head of the table and with the distinction, goes the responsibility of addressing the family. When I asked all of our students who wanted to take the responsibility, our littlest one raised her hand. No one else. As she beamed full confidence, one of our older students said something along the lines of, “Well that makes perfect sense. It’s just like Indi-ED. People will think that because she’s the littlest or because she’s a kid that she can’t do it. And so she should.” ~B.R. And so it was done.

After writing, practicing, and receiving some coaching and encouragement from her classmates. We rang our gong, a way that we celebrate one another and events, and our littlest “nugget” (that’s what we call her because she is an all around powerhouse in a tiny body) stepped right up onto her step stool to be seen and addressed the group. She welcomed them, thanked them for being there and told them why all were here, simply to get to know each other better and that she hoped that they enjoyed. She nailed it. She had never spoke in front of crowd and now she can say that she’s addressed a group of 41.

The meal began with another surprise/tradition. Under each family member’s plate was a note from their student. A message of love or appreciation to set the tone and then the kids began serving their families. With such pride, they asked what their families would like and did the work to serve them. It went by in a flash for me but I did the best I could to try to take it all in.

The fact that every student had someone close to them that cared for them filled my heart. Seeing families connect and laugh together reminded me what this is all about. The fact that the kids pulled this off made me feel proud.

The fact that every student had someone close to them that cared for them filled my heart. Seeing families connect and laugh together reminded me what this is all about. The fact that the kids pulled this off made me feel proud.

It’s happening, believe it.

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