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Top Chef Jr.: L.I.F.E. lessons at USD 428
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Brock Funke, Park School technology coach and Leadership Club sponsor, is assisted by a young club member as they prepare food recently for the USD 428 Board of Education. - photo by Courtesy photos

They may not realize it, but eight Park Elementary School students could be training for “Top Chef Jr.” And even though there were no actual judges, USD 428 school board members treated to a recent meal provided by the Park Elementary School Leadership Club judged it a hit.
Brock Funke, technology coach who doubles after hours as a cook, said club members have been in the kitchen helping him since the fall of 2016.
Funke was asked to cook for the Literacy Integrated Family Engagement (L.I.F.E.) program by its coordinator, Cristina Ingram. “I was already a sponsor for the Park Leadership Club and just decided to combine the two on the nights we had the L.I.F.E. program,” Funke said.
“The L.I.F.E. program is once a week,” he said. “We cook for and serve an average of about 40 people.
“Cristina and I discuss what we should cook each week and do the shopping. She gives me a lot of freedom in deciding what to prepare. I usually pick things I have learned to make over the years that seem to be popular.”
Menus include a potato bar, bierock casserole, stir fry, chicken fajitas, tacos, chili dogs, sloppy joes, breakfast food, taco soup and grilled hotdogs and hamburgers.
“Chicken Bacon Spinach Alfredo is everyone’s favorite. That’s what we made for the school board,” he said, noting the board of education meeting was their first catered event.
“We also serve a variety of desserts sometimes coming from the kitchen of Alana Blessing,” Funke said.
Blessing is a family support worker at Park School, club co-sponsor and part of the L.I.F.E. team who works with parents.
“The kids learn some cooking skills that they can use at home and years to come,” he said. “They learn things like kitchen and food safety, kitchen cleanliness, food preparation, following recipes, using measurement, cooking and serving people food.
“And everyone’s favorite – washing the dishes,” he joked.
“The overall goal is teaching the kids how to cook, but, most importantly, growing socially and teamwork. Cooking does a great job with that.
“The conversations and stories we share help everyone involved get to know each other better,” Funke said. “The leadership kids take pride in their work and the food we prepare.
“They have become amazing cooks and even better leaders,” he said. “Our leadership kids are very involved and take a lot of pride in everything they do. They are truly an amazing group of kids.”
Funke also gave a nod to his support team including Principal Phil Heeke and his fellow teachers, Kelsey Perry, Lacey Hofflinger and Maggie Miller.
“It has been a lot of fun and a total group effort – an amazing experience for all who are involved,” he said.

The meaning of L.I.F.E

The family mealtime is an important segment of the L.I.F.E. program, coordinator Christina Ingram said.
“Our goal is to bridge families with schools and give families tools to strengthen their bond. Eating as a family is a big tool to make families stronger,”
Other goals of the program are:
• Learn how to deepen your connections with your child.
• Learn how to support your child’s literacy skills at home.
• Read and play games with your children.
• Connect and learn from other parents while kids have supervised fun activities.