Food, fashions highlight Foreign Language Week
FORESTVILLE — Freshly baked naan, fragrant murgh makhani and savory masoor dal: these are not your typical Western New York high school cafeteria offerings. However, in early March, Forestville Middle/High School students devoured these delicious Indian foods during lunch on the final day of their annual National Foreign Language Week celebration.
Spanish teacher Laurie Becker said the annual celebration is a long-standing Forestville tradition that students and staff look forward to each year. “I’ve been a teacher here for 26 years, and this tradition has been going on since I was a student at Forestville,” she told the OBSERVER. “It’s a great time for students to step outside of their comfort zone and experience something new.”
This year’s celebration has a new twist, thanks to the involvement of Nick Weith, Forestville’s shared nutrition education integrator with Pine Valley. Weith’s position is funded through the Farm to School grant, and he has been working closely with the schools’ cafeteria staffs to incorporate local foods in new from-scratch recipes that meet required nutrition standards while increasing flavor, freshness and variety.
“The cafeteria staff have always been great partners in Foreign Language Week,” said Becker. “But this year, they really went all out!”
That week, Monday’s menu featured the cuisine of Lebanon and Greece. “I really liked the chicken souvlaki on Monday,” said 10th-grader Alana Schneider. “I wasn’t sure if I’d like it, but it was really good!”
Forestville office and cafeteria staff member Ann Collura was impressed with students’ responses. “Everybody’s been trying the foods, even though a lot of it is new to them,” she said.
“I think it really helps students look outside their community and experience another culture, even in just a small way.”
The week’s menu began with tabbouleh, pita bread and yogurt parfaits. Tuesday’s menu featured Puerto Rican food including pork pernil, tostones (fried plantains) and arroz con gandules (rice and pigeon peas). On Wednesday, students enjoyed the foods of Italy, including spaghetti and meatballs.
For 11-grader Javier West, this was the highlight of the week. “I loved making the meatballs!” he told the OBSERVER. “We helped with rolling the meat, cooking and checking the temperature. They were my favorite!”
West wasn’t alone in his opinion. He and other members of the Spanish National Honor Society enjoyed the meatballs, which they made from scratch with locally sourced meat from a Forestville alumna’s cattle farm.
Earlier this month, students enjoyed food from Ecuador including churrasco patties with chimichurri sauce, locro de papa (potato soup) made with local potatoes from Nate’s Taters, and smoothies with local fruit preserved earlier this year. A day later, Indian menu appropriately capped off the week, as this year’s theme country was India.
“Each year, we choose a new focus country, and this year is India,” said Kristen Marvin, who also teaches Spanish. “In our Spanish classes this week, we’ve been learning about the food, culture and music of India, which has been really fun! We’ve gotten nothing but good feedback about it.”
The week’s activities fostered students’ creative energy, as yoga, sandpainting and temporary henna tattoos provided unique hands-on experiences. “We really enjoyed making naan with Nick,” said Becker. “The students did a great job, and it smelled — and tasted — absolutely delicious!”
Becker added, “What’s great about this tradition is that students who are here for grades seven through 12 get to learn about a new country every year, and the first week in March becomes something they really look forward to. I think the staff do, too!”
Indeed, Weith and Collura noted that the cafeteria serves more meals during National Foreign Language Week than any week of the school year.
“When food is paired with education, it can be a very valuable resource,” said Weith.
Foreign Language Week concluded with the exchange student panel. This annual tradition invites exchange students from several area districts to share their experiences with Forestville students through a panel discussion in the high school library. This year, eight students from Austria, Chile, Germany, Hungary, Italy and Japan visited Forestville.
“The panel is a highlight for me and so many of our students,” Becker told the OBSERVER. “I had some students want to attend multiple sessions! They are so receptive and love hearing about life in other countries.”
Marvin agreed. “This week is part of a national celebration,” she noted, “and our district really embraces it. I think it really helps our students develop a global understanding and awareness, and any time we can give them an opportunity to develop these life skills, we’re going to do it.”