TEACHING LANGUAGE THROUGH FOOD
In the 20-minute video, GIANNA GALLAGHER ‘21 stands in her home kitchen, naming the measured ingredients laid out before her in fluent French. She then begins to make the batter for madeleines, the classic French tea cakes famously referred to in Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. It’s a project for French 6, the highest level of French class at Milton, and just one of the many moments when food is used as a tool to learn a language in the classroom.
“The basic component of learn- ing a language is to learn the culture—they go together,”says Severine Carpenter, an Upper School French teacher. “Food is a natural component of this and it is fun to use in class, because everyone loves food!”
French teacher Cédric Morlot says the beginner textbooks for the French and Spanish classes always have chapters focused on vocabulary for food and eating. Food top- ics, he says, are good icebreakers and get the students talking.
“They want to speak about food, such as their favorite snack,” he says. “It’s a subject that is passionate to them, so in beginner classes we can have a conversation about pizza that turns into a debate about whether you should put pineapple on pizza.”
Food topics also work well when students perform skits in class, such as pretending to be at a restaurant or shopping at a market. As the students advance in the language and order food in an actual restaurant, Morlot says, whether locally or on an exchange program, “they are very proud of that moment, which is the goal for us language teachers beyond grades.”
However, introducing words for specific foods or discussing food is “trickier” in Milton’s beginner Chinese classes, according to recent- ly retired Chinese teacher Shimin Zhou. The U.S. State Department’s Foreign Service Institute classifies Chinese as one of five “super-hard languages”—those that are exceptionally difficult for native English-speakers.
The English language is Germanic with some words also de- rived from Latin roots. French and Spanish are Romance languages, which evolved from Latin. The word “pastry” in English is “pâtiserie” in French, with both originating in the Medieval Latin pasteria from the Latin pasta. No such re- lated derivations exist between English and Chinese words. And beginner Chinese-language learners are also learning tones and the characters for writing.
In Chinese classes, Zhou says, students may discuss food in “com- pare and contrast” formats, such as an American breakfast versus a Chinese breakfast, because food choices and ingredients can be quite different.
“In the higher levels of Chinese, we talk about how the names of certain dishes come from a famous dynasty or poet,” says Zhou. “So it brings in the cultural and historical roots of Chinese food. Just like the language, Chinese food can be very complicated and not so easy to trans- late to English equivalents.”
Carpenter says she has taught recipes—such as crepes and galettes—that reflect her background in the Brittany region of France. In the higher-level classes, food topics lead to lessons on the economy and the natural resources of a Francophone country. Lessons on cultural norms and food habits, such as why people in France eat something sweet late in the afternoon, are also taught.
Outside the classroom, student culture clubs often share food special to them during certain events and holidays, such as Zhou’s dumplings on Lunar New Year or latkes at the Jewish Student Union’s Hanukkah celebration.
By Liz Matson
Illustration by Brian Cronin
LESSONS IN GRATITUDE AND SERVICE
“Gotta be grateful.”
These three words became some- thing of a mantra for the Lower School kindergarten this past spring, as teachers overheard one student remind another about the importance of gratitude at lunchtime. It was a sign that the message of a di- vision-wide effort involving food and community engagement was taking hold.
“It’s a way to make them aware that while we’re a community with- in kindergarten, there’s the community of Milton Academy, and there’s a much larger community outside of that,” says kindergarten teacher Vanessa Phifer. “We want them to always be aware of the people who surround us and that we’re fortunate to have what we have.”
On a mission of gratitude and service, students in the Lower School’s grades K–5 jumped into Tomato Tuesdays—a project to grow tomatoes and other produce to be donated to the Milton Community Food Pantry—with enthusiasm. Throughout the spring, classes planted and grew tomatoes, worked in the Lower School’s garden, read books about food insecurity and community gardening, and completed projects on the theme.
Tomato Tuesdays arose from a number of sources, says Monica Furtado, who guided the division’s community engagement programs during the school year. In second grade, teachers Maria Elisa Ciampa and Sandy Butler had been teach- ing about food insecurity through- out the fall, and Jane McGuinness, a fifth-grade teacher who also leads the School’s sustainability and gardening efforts, had the garden ready for planting. In all, the students and teachers grew more than 500 tomato plants in the spring, and McGuinness planned to continue working in the garden to donate more produce throughout the summer.
“It was a great way to get the community together in a way that we could all be outside,” says Furtado.“Each student could participate and know they’ve given back.”
Every Tuesday, Furtado sent out a newsletter giving guidance on grow- ing the plants and sharing resources about food and food insecurity. At each grade level, students read the book Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table, by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, the true story of a former basketball player who turned vacant lots in Milwaukee into farms where volunteers could grow fresh food for underserved people in the city.Allen became an inspiration for urban agriculture efforts nationally.
“We want the students to understand that small acts of kind- ness can change the world,” Ciampa says.“The kids were responsible for their plants, and they took to that extremely well. They were totally invested.”
During the run of the project, teachers built lessons about food into different elements of the curriculum, including math, science, language arts, and social studies. As they prepared to donate the plants, they decorated reusable market totes for the recipients. Students learned about food deserts—areas without easy access to fresh food—and were surprised to hear that there are some nearby in Massachusetts.
In kindergarten, sensitive topics like food insecurity and inequality were approached through stories that helped students understand the issues, says teacher Kiana Gibson. “We talk a lot about commonalities and differences,” she says. “We talk about how kids in other parts of the world have different ways of getting their food, and how food and water are not as accessible everywhere as they are for us. At this age, they want to help out, and the project has shown them that they can make an impact, even though they’re little. This is a nice way to start their learning about giving to others.”
By Marisa Donelan
Illustration by Hsingping Pan