Last week, Dolores elementary school students in third-grade classes taught by Angie Lowe, Meg Neeley and Melody McNeill served locally sourced meals to their parents and other community members, capping off a six-week project culminating in the one-day opening of a restaurant.
Each of the three Dolores third-grade classes created their own menus derived from ingredients and flavors available from the school garden, learning the economic lessons of running a restaurant in the process.
The project is part of Dolores School District Re-4A’s effort to bring to their classrooms more project-based learning, a teaching style that involves a dynamic classroom approach in which students complete real-world challenges and problems.
American philosopher and education reformer John Dewey promoted the teaching method, highlighting classroom egalitarianism as its central tenant.
“These projects are great because they are cross-curricular and highly motivating,” Lowe said during Tuesday’s restaurant opening.
“I can’t tell you the level of attendance I have during these projects because they’re awesome and fun.”
To explore the guiding question of why people choose to live in Montezuma County and how they make money living in the area, students were given the task of creating a profitable restaurant that sourced its main ingredients from the garden at Dolores Elementary School.
“By the end of it, they should be able to explain how to set a financial goal, how to work within a budget, (and) how to identify their expenses and lower their expenses,” Lowe said, describing some of the project’s learning outcomes.
Students tested some of the vegetables being grown in the school garden, and from there, they created a menu for their restaurant and prepared food before and during the restaurant’s opening. Students also assigned themselves to roles such as waiter, busser, cashier or kitchen staff.
The restaurant, named the Wild Chimichanga, charged $5 for a chimichanga or a cup of “Wild Bean Soup,” both of which came with an appetizer of potato and beet chips and a brownie for dessert. Some of the menu items contained store-bought ingredients such as ground beef and spinach, but many of the ingredients comprising the meal, including tomatoes and beans, were grown, handpicked and prepared at the school by the third-graders.
Lowe says that the primary learning outcomes from the project were economic in nature, but there also were many lessons in teamwork and collaboration as the students reached compromises over decisions about the menu, restaurant name, staffing needs and dining room decor.
Emmett Adams, a sixth-grader who did the restaurant project when he was in third grade, went to the event with his parents, Jenn Adams and Jeff Adams, to support the class’ final product. Emmett said one of the highlights for him doing the project was being the first person to greet people when they came into the restaurant.
Emmett also said he enjoyed the project and got to learn how to cook better, run a restaurant and work as a team.
“It’s so applicable and hands-on and practical, and they can completely relate to it,” Jenn Adams said of the school’s project-based approach.
“That’s another thing I liked about this: It was very hands-on,” Emmett said in response.
Jenn said she believed the teaching method leaves a “deeper impression” on students and makes the learning outcomes stick better.
Lowe’s third-graders will move on from looking at modern Montezuma County to looking at the history of the area. Lowe says they will write historical fiction about people who would have lived in Dolores from the town’s founding and beyond, and perform skits as part of a “living museum” at the end of the semester.