Students 'SOAR' outside the classroom

Oak Hill opens kitchen to teach students how to cook
By Caroline Klapper | Mar 20, 2013
Photo by: Caroline Klapper Deb Isenberg, right, helps SOAR student Jake Lafaye measure out  ingredients for a recipe as Paige Laver, left, and Courtney Wiegand watch.

For the students who attend school through SOAR (Success Oriented Achievement Realized), a program for preteens, teens and adults with learning disabilities, ADD and AD/HD, the “usual” way of doing things often doesn’t cut it.

Through SOAR’s “experiential learning” programs, students develop self-confidence, social skills and motivation. While some regular classroom work is involved, the school, which is located in Balsam, focuses on learning from hands-on experiences, and often that means the instructors don’t go by the book, or in this case, the textbook.

Throughout the school term, students spend two weeks on expedition, which can range from scuba diving in the Florida Keys to taking a canoe trip down the Suwannee River. On these trips, the students are taught by field instructors, who incorporate lessons into the experience. When they return from expedition trips, they’ll spend two weeks on campus in a regular school setting; however, the hands-on learning doesn’t stop there.

“We have a life skills class every Wednesday,” said instructor Nicole Rathjen. “We try to find things for them that they’re going to be using in everyday life.”

Recently the life skills class has been focused on cooking, and the students were able to visit Oak Hill Bed and Breakfast in Waynesville for a cooking lesson from owners Shell and Deb Isenberg.

“They each have a day when they have to cook. We thought it might be good for them to learn some cooking techniques,” Deb said of the program.

Gathered in the Oak Hill kitchen, the students learned how to read recipes, measure ingredients and put together a meal. In the end, they each got to taste their creations, which consisted of fruit smoothies, fresh fruit with a glaze sauce for dipping and a baked oatmeal dish served with freshly made whipped cream and strawberries.

“This is fabulous,” said student Courtney Wiegand, 19. “Honestly, I think it’s a better way of learning. I’m not a textbook learner. I definitely think it sticks better.”

Many of the students at SOAR thrive on alternative forms of learning, Wiegand said, and programs like the cooking classes are a good way to connect with children who have trouble learning through “traditional” methods.

“And it’s much more fun,” she said with a grin.

Rathjen said SOAR tries to incorporate all different types of learning styles to benefit students who face a variety of learning challenges. One of the ways the school does that is by recruiting local business owners and others to volunteer to give the children hands-on learning opportunities.

For example, the next activity on the agenda is visiting a working farm.

“It’s a different setting. It’s exciting for them,” Rathjen said.

Such programs seem to be paying off as Deb said several of the children have expressed an interest in eventually attending culinary school.

“I think that maybe this might be opening a door for them,” she said.

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