SoCal charter school makes cooking, fitness a part of curriculum

At KIPP Scholar Academy, every child is required to play a musical instrument. But teacher Cynthia Messenger wants these kids to play a different tune by getting comfortable in the kitchen.

It's called Nutrition Expedition. During one session, the kids took a culinary trip by making haiva. It's a type of ceviche made with imitation crab meat, tomato, cilantro, red onion and lemon juice, along with some culinary twists that she has her kids experiment with.

"I grew up in a home where my parents both worked. They worked really, really long hours so the kids had to fend for themselves as far as food goes. I really wanted my students to be exposed to what my grandma potentially exposed me to. Being comfortable inside the kitchen," said teacher Cynthia Messenger of Kipp Scholar Academy.

These sixth- through eight-graders are learning meal prep, knife skills, safety, nutrition and also meal variety.

"More than 90% of our students are capable of getting a free meal here, which means they are low income. To expose our students to these vegetables and to these recipes and ingredients that they might not be able to have at home," said Messenger.

"Quesadillas were very fun. We made squash spaghetti and my favorite was the pizza," said eight-grader Jordan Duncan.

Another recipe the students learned contains avocado, mango, peppers, fresh spices and something new to them -- Za'Atar, which is a Mediterranean spice blend. After making the base dish, they have a choice at choosing spicy additives.

Along with the cooking, there's also gardening and there's even an after school CrossFit program to take it full circle.

"As I got older I realize that health and fitness had a lot to do with it. They go hand-in-hand. If you want to live a healthy life, you have to meditate and make sure you do your 20 minute walks and eat healthy," said Messenger.
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