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Oct 7, 2021 |
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This post is authored by Leila Kubesch, 2020 Toyota Family Teacher of the Year. 

One afternoon, a student of mine stayed after class to share how much he wished our school still offered a Family & Consumer Sciences class because he wanted to learn how to cook. Other students expressed the same sentiment. Older youth had a need for learning their way around the kitchen to help their families during the pandemic. During remote learning and with more time alone at home, they wanted to know how to prepare simple meals for themselves and younger siblings whenever adults were not available. 

I honored their wish by volunteering to offer a virtual cooking class but the plan didn’t work well because several students did not have access to needed cookware at home and others were not able to access the internet during the event.  I partnered with my school administrators and colleagues to use an available kitchen in the school that had been turned into storage. The space was cleared for us and I began to invite youth to attend hands-on cooking skills workshops. Students from the middle and high school have been eager to participate and learn. They make and take their meals home to share the dinner with their families and to talk about what they learned. We call the program Chow & Tell: A Cooking Show for Teens.

Our first demonstration was not ideal because the oven we used at the school did not heat sufficiently and we were left with partially roasted chicken. (I contacted the families with instructions for making sure the meal was cooked completely!) An amazing gift arrived when a local store donated a brand-new electric stove/oven for the program after learning about the issue; a small ribbon cutting ceremony was held in celebration. This present enabled youth to request any recipe they aspired to cook or bake. 

To expand the program’s reach, I partnered with our local community television to produce and air the cooking shows to make them available to a larger audience.

Upon filming and reflecting on our first 20 episodes, I realized that I am unlike a typical television host demonstrating how to make a dish. For example, I can’t prepare food in advance and magically pull a fully cooked meal out at the end as soon as another goes in the oven. After a long day of teaching, I focused on the technical aspects of the program—preparation, cooking, and packaging food for my students to take home—but I had a different aspiration. I wanted to use the show as an avenue to connect students with community leaders, turn the focus on the child, and introduce youth to experts (in any field)—making the cooking process only part of the program.

I began to reach out to invite community members. One of our honored guests was the Ohio Superintendent of Public Schools, Paolo DeMaria.  We learned how kind, talented and funny he is.  My students were incredulous that anyone had time to come just for them. He made the journey to spend time with them, sharing his love for Italian food and how he was born to an Italian father and a Hungarian mother. He focused on connecting with the senses by inviting them to smell the basil leaves and to taste the pine nuts, as he shared his insight and knowledge about olive oils and cheeses, and shared about culture.  Together they baked stuffed shell pasta for students to take home and made pesto they shared with warm bread out of the new oven. It was a wonderful day that we will never forget.

Other notable guests include the educator for 4-H Youth Development, who shared opportunities available for youth through the organization while teaching students how to make homemade chips and dip; the 2021 Virginia Teacher of the Year, who traveled to our school to cook with aspiring educators; and the Mayor of Norwood, who shared about his political career journey while teaching them how to make pancakes.

The best part of the show is seeing the connections students have made to guest chefs who have visited through the program.  One of the hosts, Jenny Kilgore, a state school board member, shared her lasagna recipe along with amazing stories about her teaching career and path into political service to advocate for youth. A few days later, she sent each student a handwritten card. One student came to my class showing me how he framed her note, and I saw in that moment how much of an impact the connection made on him.

With support from the community, we achieved our goal of doing more than cook together. Making a few changes, the program serves to connect youth with diverse leaders and available opportunities open for them. Our guest chefs have all added an amazing flavor to the program, turning each episode into an improvised unrehearsed experience that we all enjoy, as we learn from their talents and stories, and form connections that help children to expand their knowledge of their community.


Leila Kubesch has taken a personal sabbatical leave from her job at Norwood High School in Ohio to commit an academic year volunteering as a speaker, trainer, or in another capacity to Title I schools or those with minority and English language learners at no cost to anyone. Her expertise includes: parent engagement; community outreach; grant writing for educators; service learning; project-based learning; self-care for educators; and social emotional learning for youth. She is also certified in yoga, yoga therapy, and sensitive trauma yoga. To bring Leila to your school or organization for training, email 


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NCFL Partners

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Toyota, one of the nation's most successful corporations, began a partnership with NCFL in 1991. In addition to a commitment of more than $50 million, Toyota has also contributed a wealth of in-kind support — including advertising, planning and management expertise — to form one of the most progressive corporate/nonprofit partnerships in the nation.

Three major programs have been developed through the Toyota partnership based on the family literacy model of parents and children learning together. These models have influenced federal and state legislation, leveraged local dollars to support family literacy and led to successful programs being replicated across the country.

Read more about Toyota's commitment to communities

William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust

NCFL received its very first donation in 1989 from the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust to promote and implement family literacy programming, first in Kentucky and North Carolina and later nationwide. The Kenan Family Literacy Model in part laid the groundwork for 30 years of subsequent family literacy and family learning programming developed by NCFL.

Kenan has continued to support NCFL’s place-based family literacy programs since our inception. Most recently, it has invested in our organization’s Sharon Darling Innovation Fund, which will launch emerging ideas and programmatic evolutions in the multigenerational learning space.

Learn more about the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust

Dollar General Literacy Foundation

The Dollar General Literacy Foundation began partnering with NCFL in 2006. A signature effort of this partnership is the National Literacy Directory, a resource that launched in 2010 and strives to guide potential students and volunteers to literacy services, community education programs, and testing centers in their communities.

The National Literacy Directory contains over 10,000 educational agencies located across the United States and has a dedicated toll-free number to help support those wanting to pursue educational opportunities in their communities.

Dollar General also provides support for development of NCFL’s innovative family learning resources centered on financial literacy and Parent and Child Together (PACT) Time®.

Learn more about the Dollar General Literacy Foundation

PNC Grow Up Great

PNC Grow Up Great believes deeply in the power of high-quality early childhood education and provides innovative opportunities that assist families, educators and community organizations to enhance children's learning and development.

PNC Grow Up Great has partnered with NCFL since 1994, most recently in Louisville, Kentucky, to support Say & Play with Words, our pre-Kindergarten vocabulary-building initiative.

NCFL's work is also featured on the PNC Grow Up Great Lesson Center website. The Lesson Center includes over 100 free, high-quality preschool lesson plans and research-based instructional techniques and strategies. All lesson plans contain Home/School Connections printouts, in English and Spanish, to help families extend and reinforce the learning at home.

Learn more about PNC Grow Up Great

U.S. Department of Education

Initiated through the U.S. Department of Education in 2018, the Statewide Family Engagement Centers (SFEC) program provides 12 grantees and 13 states with five-year, $5 million grants to promote and implement systemic evidenced-based family engagement strategies. NCFL was selected to lead SFECs in two states, Arizona and Nebraska, and is a primary partner for two other SFECs in Kentucky and Maryland/Pennsylvania. 

The SFECs work to support family engagement through state- and local-level agencies while providing both professional development to school districts and direct services to families related to children’s academic outcomes and overall well-being.

Learn more about the U.S. Department of Education

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

NCFL was named a recipient of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s "Voices for Economic Opportunity Grand Challenge," which seeks to elevate diverse voices in order to broaden the conversation about the issues inhibiting economic mobility and generate deeper awareness along with actionable understanding. NCFL will develop and launch a podcast series that will highlight the remarkable stories of low-income, diverse families across the U.S. who have improved their communities through Family Service Learning.

Foundation Website