Sixth Graders Demonstrate Leadership: A Recipe for Success
Sixth Graders Demonstrate Leadership: A Recipe for Success

Sixth graders found themselves in a position of doing something they've never done before. How they navigated these unknown waters successfully is both a testament to them and to the unique leadership program Dwight launched this year.

What was it these Middle Schoolers did anew? They planned, cooked, and served a dinner to their parents ... they created a pop-up restaurant, if you will, in Dwight's Quad. This was the culminating event that each of three sections of the class hosted over the course of three consecutive nights.

Dwight began a leadership program for students in grades 6, 7, and 8, which took shape in a variety ways for each grade level. "Our goal was to provide students with different leadership learning and experiential opportunities, in keeping with Dwight's vision of educating the next generation of global leaders," says Head of Middle School Ron Posner. "Sixth graders learned about different leadership characteristics and styles before tackling a group project in which they took on different roles and collaborated as members of a team to bring that project to fruition."

Their project was challenging. "By putting students in unfamiliar situations, they build grit and resiliency. Research shows that this will help them prosper later in life," explains Mr. Posner. "So we came up with an idea for this dinner and we had some limitations, such as trying to cook without a kitchen! We had to improvise. Students had to research different means of preparing food and devise a method of serving a wonderful hot meal without a stove or oven."

The solution? To sous vide (seal the food and place it in a temperature-controlled cooking bath).

In preparation for the larger task at hand, students were introduced to experts in the food industry through a three-way community partnership among Dwight; alumnus JacobHadjigeorgis'02, owner of Jacob's Pickles restaurant and founder of Jacob's Pickles Digs NY, a non-profit organization supporting urban farming in New York City; and The Insurgo Project, founded by chef Harold Villarosa to nurture farm-to-table and sustainability practices. Over the course of ten weeks, sixth graders learned about these practices in the classroom from the experts. Along the way, they connected the dots between seasonality and sustainability, and what is meant by terms such as organic and non-GMO. Students were also schooled in hospitality and restaurant practices, ranging from food handling to customer service.

As students dove into the project, they enhanced their IB "approaches to learning" (ATL) skills: thinking, research, communication, collaboration, and self-management. They divided themselves into working groups to focus on operations, marketing, front of house, back of house ... they looked through cookbooks, designed the menus and invitations, decided who would cook, who would serve, who would provide entertainment, and who would lead as general manager based on individual strengths and talents. The class went to Chelsea Market to learn the origins of the food they were preparing, and throughout the process, the mentors lent a guiding hand, teaching them how professional chefs and restaurateurs work.

Grit. Determination. Raising each other up. Doing your job and doing it well, so you don't let anyone on your team down ... so they can do their jobs. These are ingredients for cooking up leadership skills in a microcosm such as a restaurant. And these are the ingredients our sixth graders mixed so well night after night. They were deservedly proud of their accomplishments and when it was over, they had this to say:

"We did it, we pulled it off! It feels really great to see what we accomplished. We all put in a lot of work outside of class, during lunch, practicing our speeches and music. To see our parents socialize, hear them talk about how they really enjoyed it makes us feel great. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses and no one could have done this alone. We couldn't have done it without each other." – Gwynne

"It was really exciting and we learned a lot — that it takes a lot of courage to be a leader and that you have to have confidence in yourself and not back down; it takes confidence to lead a group. It's important to learn this because later in life, you will have to be a leader." Maya

"The dinner was completely organized by students. We come up with the themes, menu, and decorations. It was really special because we got to do everything and our parents said the food and live entertainment were great! We basically ran a business for a night and learned a life lesson about how to come together as a group to achieve something big like a business." – Bernardo

"Other schools should have classes like this to show kids what they need to know about leadership in jobs." – Jade

"Everyone was on point and everyone stuck to their task, we really got into the moment, were one unit, and had fun. We were proud of the outcome; the food was great, the parents enjoyed seeing us at our best. Learning leadership skills is more than important — it's required. You have to be able to learn how to take charge in any situation ... good, bad, fun, scary." ­ Luca

"The parents enjoyed seeing us at our best," truer words ...Perhaps none said it better than Ms. Capirosa: "The attention to detail, beginning with the greeters who explained what was in the mocktail, to the food, entertainment, ambiance, and professionalism really knocked my socks off! The really wonderful thing about Dwight — in addition to the great academics — is that they really celebrate putting kids in situations where they have to stretch themselves and learn new skills together. The students really bond when they collaborate on projects like this, take trips, and get to see their classmates in other lights outside the classroom, where they take on different roles, work as an ensemble, and support each other."

Check out this grade 6 dinner photo album to see how students wowed us!

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