Building community connections through food

When it comes to being unique and finding ways to engage students and parents, the Scotch Plains Fanwood Education Association (SPFEA) always has something cookin.’ However, this spring, the local has been taking the literal approach to this mindset through its “Global Food Fiesta” event, whose goal was to foster community engagement and support for families new to the United States.

On May 2, children and parents chopped and cooked with other families as they spend the night engaging one another and sampling the cuisine. The night was the last in a series of programs developed by SPFEA members Karen Sanchez and Reyna Martoccia, district Spanish teachers, Anna Segura, district foods teacher, and Lisa Howard, district language supervisor, and made possible through an NJEA Family and Schools Together (F.A.S.T) grant. Their primary objective was to provide a welcoming environment for immigrant families where they could come together to celebrate their diverse cultures through cooking traditional foods.

“Coming to this country as an immigrant myself, my parents experienced being misinformed and separated from the community due to language barriers. It is for this reason that I feel being able to foster cultural understanding is so important and a great responsibility as an educator, said Sanchez. “It was so beautiful to see how different families from different backgrounds would come together once a month to learn how to cook a new cultural recipe while building friendships and unity as a diverse community.”

In addition to providing an opportunity to sample a variety of traditional foods from a myriad of countries, the SPFEA shared information on current community outreach opportunities offered this summer, as well as programs offered by the district to support these new students’ education and integration into the local community.

“We believe that—through our Global Fiesta—we were able to underscore the importance of cultural diversity and community integration, but also provided valuable insights into the educational needs and challenges faced by immigrant families,” said SPFEA President Candice Testa. “What a delicious way to come together and shine a spotlight on ways that we can work to provide our students with the best educational experience possible.”

Sanchez agreed with that sentiment and saw the Global Fiesta as the start of something more.

“I believe that building events like these will help pave the way for a brighter and more inclusive future,” Sanchez declared.