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More than a meal: Students in IRC learn skills by preparing Thanksgiving dinner

By Hannah Ballenger

For the Enquirer

Thanksgiving has brought the opportunity for a unique lesson for some Hartselle students. The Instructional Resource Center at Hartselle High School has its own Thanksgiving meal, prepared by the students in the class. The meal takes two days to prepare, and on the second day, the students and staff get to eat the food they have prepared themselves.

Special education teachers Alice Anne Glasgow and Ally McCaghren said the idea was presented by HHS principal Dr. Brad Cooper.

Glasgow said through the Thanksgiving meal, the IRC students practice a variety of functional skills in a real-life setting. The students make dressing, green bean casserole, deviled eggs, macaroni and cheese and mashed potatoes, and the school’s CNP department prepares the meat for the meal.

“Our students work each day to increase their functional skills in order to increase their independence,” Glasgow said. “Our students are all on different levels and have different experiences they each bring to the table.

“A big task, like cooking a Thanksgiving meal for several people, teaches each student more than just cooking skills,” she added – although, of course, cooking skills are one cernterpiece of the project. “Throughout the week, it is great to see the students learn new cooking skills they did not know when we first started the cooking process.”

By preparing and cooking this meal, McCaghren said the students execute many life skills that can benefit them in everyday life.

“It takes a great deal of time to prepare and cook all the dishes we make,” McCaghren said. “They learn what all goes into each dish; they make grocery lists; they learn how to prep the kitchen, how to read recipes, how to combine ingredients and how to use everyday kitchen utensils and equipment.”

McCaghren said this project is not the easiest for the students or the teachers.

“The toughest part about this type of project is having enough hands and helping support all 11 students with this type of activity. It’s not always pretty and smooth,” McCaghren said. “Sometimes, eggs get cracked on tables or things get spilled, but they’re learning through each step, and when the meal is done, they are so proud to eat everything they’ve cooked.”

She said each student gets the chance to work on their own or with support from staff when needed, which helps give the students confidence.

“It takes a lot of patience and time to make the entire meal,” McCaghren said. “They definitely get a real-life and hands-on experience … We try our best to give them the chance to do it on their own and make it their own. They feel a little more confident in their abilities and figure out they can do a lot of things independently.”

Glasgow said they also see the students help each other through the process.

“The students do a great job of helping each other out with each step – some are stronger at certain skills than others,” Glasgow explained. “They’ve done a great job using teamwork and communication skills. Our students communicate with fewer words than some, but they each understand the other’s strengths and really work together to help each other.”

McCaghren and Glasgow said the staff and students are grateful the HOSA Club, from the Hartselle High School Medical Academy, donated kitchen supplies this year, and Peck-Glasgow Insurance Agency provided a donation to help cover the grocery costs.

“We are grateful for the students at the high school and businesses in the community who constantly support and encourage our students,” Glasgow said. “The support and donations help us create activities and experiences for our students to learn valuable life skills and independence.”

The teachers said they hope practicing these skills at school will help the students at home and in real-life situations.

“The parents love seeing their child participate in a life skill that will help them in the future,” Glasgow said. “Life at home can get very busy and fast paced.”

Both teachers said their favorite part of the meal was seeing the students enjoy the final product of their work. “I love seeing the kids fix their plates Thursday,” McCaghren said. “They get so excited to eat the food they actually prepared.”

Glasgow said the students invite staff and administration to come enjoy the meal also. “The students love getting to give back to the people that help them throughout the year, and it shows with the big smiles they have on their faces while eating with their teachers and favorite school staff,” she said. “The students put a lot of time and energy into preparing a good meal, and we usually all go back for seconds.”