NV tortillas

Senaida Perez-Vasvillegas, mother of a student in an Everson Elementary School first-grade class, leads the entire classroom in learning how to make tortillas last week. It was an example of teacher Sam Probadora’s effort to bring families’ cultural traditions into the educational process.  (Courtesy photo/Sam Probadora)

First graders become chefs for a day, learning from a mom to make their own tortillas 

EVERSON — Learning through experience. It’s something Sam Probadora wants to emphasize in her first-grade class at Everson Elementary School. 

Last week, her young students were able to do just that when they spent a day as chefs learning how to make tortillas from scratch. Senaida Perez-Vasvillegas, a parent of one of Probadora’s students, came in to teach the students.

“We were just thinking about ways to be more culturally inclusive to all of our kids and thinking outside of the box in creative ways to engage our families and their kids’ education,” Probadora said. “How do we up our game and teaching practices here by using the families as the foundation of their child’s learning?”

Engaging and encouraging the families of students to come into the classroom has been happening more frequently at Everson, Probadora said. She said she seeks ways to get more Latino families involved, given their high population at the school. 

The day of making tortillas came to be out of wanting to be culturally inclusive and engage all families not only in their own child’s learning, but all of a classroom’s learning. 

Probadora told her students at the beginning of the week there would be a guest coming in and that they would be acting as chefs later in the week. 

“Off the bat that really created some engagement and just excitement of an experience that we’ll get to have as a whole class,” she said.

Perez-Vasvillegas said she felt very privileged to come in and teach the students because not everyone has the opportunity to share and teach their culture to students in a classroom. 

 “I feel proud to bring part of our culture from Mexico to teach all children,” Perez-Vasvillegas said. “I decided to do this because, for me, it was an amazing opportunity that I did with a lot of love and pride.”

NV tortillas 2

Students delighted in the hands-on experience of being chefs of another culture’s food. From tortillas they had made, the first-graders of Everson Elementary School also made food plates that they handed out to others or ate themselves. (Courtesy photo/Sam Probadora)

All of the students in Probadora’s class that day stayed in for lunch, making tostadas, tacos or burritos from the tortillas they had made that morning. 

“I think one of the fun parts of that was kids were also able to walk around the school and deliver tortillas or tacos to some of our staff in the building,” Probadora said. 

The students will next write books on how to make tortillas based on last week’s experience. 

Probadora said she thinks exploring other cultures through hands-on learning is important for children and that it doesn’t happen nearly enough. 

She emphasized the different areas of expertise that students’ families can bring, given the diverse backgrounds they come from. She said learning becomes even more powerful when tapping into the heart of who students are. 

“Many of our families immigrated from different countries, so we really want to see putting value and honor on their different cultures. It’s really powerful.” Probadora said. “I think we are able to see and learn things about kids and families that otherwise might be hidden. Bringing the world into the classroom is huge.”

Perez-Vasvillegas said she saw the students very engaged and happy to be making their own tortillas throughout the day. 

“My favorite part was the result of having the children eat their tortillas,” Perez-Vasvillegas said. “I was very proud of being able to be a part of this project because now they can attempt to make tortillas themselves at home and know they can do it.”

There are plenty of hands-on learning opportunities like this in Probadora’s classroom. She said learning something by actually experiencing and seeing how it happens is one of the best ways for students to learn. 

Probadora hopes to bring other cultures into her classroom in the future because of the effect it has on her students. 

“I look back and see all my Latino students in the classroom who are empowered and talking and excited,” she said. “We get to see kids in a light that I don’t think otherwise we would be able to if we didn’t go outside our comfort zone. It’s so important for my other students, too, to learn about other cultures.”

With Perez-Vasvillegas’ first language being Spanish and not English, there was an additional challenge of her coming in to teach the students, but that didn’t keep it from happening.

“Language is not a barrier,” Probadora said. “Instead of taking these situations that can divide my class, using those opportunities to create even more of a community to just appreciate and celebrate each other is really powerful.”