SFA elementary education students with local teachers

Stephen F. Austin State University elementary education students discuss their selected books about diverse religion and lesson plans with local teachers during the first “Book Bites” event on the university campus. Elementary education and hospitality administration students joined to bring diverse books to life with food through this event.

Hospitality administration student Samantha Dibilio explains her group’s dishes to “Book Bites” attendees.

Samantha Dibilio, Wylie hospitality administration sophomore at Stephen F. Austin State University, explains her group’s dishes to “Book Bites” attendees. Students prepared guacamole and homemade tortilla chips, spicy vegetarian chili, and colorful sopapillas to complement the Hispanic book theme.

NACOGDOCHES, Texas — Local teachers took a bite out of education recently as they participated in “Book Bites,” a collaborative event organized by Stephen F. Austin State University elementary education and hospitality administration students.

For two nights, a range of children’s books focused on diversity were brought to life with food as students in courses taught by Dr. Lauren Burrow, SFA assistant professor in elementary education, and Jill Pruett, adjunct instructor in the School of Human Sciences, joined to produce the first “Book Bites” event on the university campus. Burrow invited local kindergarten, first, second and third grade teachers to attend. Many of the attendees serve as mentors to SFA students enrolled in field practicum courses.

“We came up with the idea to feed the mind, feed the belly and feed our hearts,” Burrow said. “As teachers, you have to keep learning and coming up with new ideas and ways to make your students and their families feel connected.”

Inspired by a former SFA student, this event served as a service-learning project for elementary education and hospitality administration students. Elementary education students researched and selected children’s books focused on diversity and worked in groups to create video book reports.

“Throughout this semester, we have been learning about the need for diverse books and the different ways these books help students feel included in the classroom,” Burrow said. “As a teacher, we want all of our students to feel valued and appreciated in the classroom. It’s one thing to say it, but if you look around the classroom and you don’t see books or posters that look like you, or people are not speaking your language or celebrating your religion, you don’t really believe it.”

Elementary education students also created lesson plans to accompany each book and had examples for event attendees to review and take home.

“Teachers came to have a bite of a book and a bite to eat,” said Samantha Mark, Huntington early childhood through sixth grade senior. “The food correlates with the topic of the book, and our topic is diverse characters and authors. This teaches children diversity so they can see themselves in the book they are reading.”

Hospitality administration students in a management of meal production course selected and cooked meals based on the various book themes, which included Hispanic heritage, special education, religion, race and more. Food ranged from chips and guacamole, rainbow Rice Crispy treats, and spaghetti nests with mozzarella, to chicken and dumpling soup, pumpkin chocolate chip mini muffins and more.

“Our students brought books to life with food. They found recipes that support the book’s theme and prepared and served dishes to elementary education teachers from local schools,” Pruett said.

During the event, various tables were displayed with food and books in the Culinary Café, and each table represented a kitchen group and diversity theme. For example, one table used the book “It’s Ramadan, Curious George” by Hena Khan and H.A. Rey to celebrate diverse religions, and the correlating dishes were frozen chocolate-covered bananas and lamb meatballs with dates and carob molasses.

“This really is applying everything we’ve been going over such as how to select a standardized recipe and locate resources,” Pruett said.

Hospitality administration students learned to work within a budget, adhere to certain guidelines, practice sanitation methods, scale recipes and order ingredients. Most of the dishes were kid friendly to fit the elementary education program and curriculum.

“I was never a food guru before I took cooking classes, but to be able to transfer my knowledge and feed the public was pretty cool,” said Samantha Dibilio, Wylie hospitality administration sophomore.

Burrow and Pruett received a service-learning grant to host this event.