The West Somerville Neighborhood School in Somerville, Massachusetts celebrates black history month every year. Each classroom selects a person whose life and work they explore together. Then the classes share what they learned with the rest of the school.
After watching a CBSNews Boston report by Levan Reid, Monica Revert’s students chose to research Boston area chef Chris Faison. Ms. Revert teaches fifth grade English and social studies, and her students designed and decorated their classroom door to illustrate in honor of Chef Faison. Ms. Revert called to let him know about their class project, and recalls saying something along the lines of, “We chose you; you’re on our door!”
But they never expected what happened next. Mr. Faison was so pleased, he came to visit and see Ms. Revert, her students, and his tribute mural in person.
Chef Faison arrived with colleagues Tiara Anders and Nancy McGeoghegan. He spoke briefly to the students about his professional journey, and how he began to cook when he was just fourteen years old. He said that he loves his work as an instructor at NECAT, the New England Culinary Arts Training center in Boston, because it gives him the chance to give back by helping underemployed adults learn the trade he loves.
In anticipation of Chef Faison’s visit, the students created a welcome banner that covered the entire classroom door: a giant portrait of Chef Chris Faison, a short biography, and paper cutouts of the tools of his trade—spatula, saute pans, and plenty of fruits and vegetables.
The short biography reads, in part, “Chef Chris Faison is a chef and works at New England Culinary Arts Training (NECAT) in Boston. He teaches the students there how to cook. He teaches everyone, no matter what they have been through or what they look like. We think of Chef Faison as a role model because he helps people get their lives back on track. If someone went to jail early in life, for example, it’s hard to get a job later. Chef Faison helps them by teaching them cooking skills that will help them get a job, earn money, and have a better future.”
There was time for students to ask questions, and there were many. Students asked Chef Faison what his favorite fruit and vegetable are, and whether he likes pickles (answers: banana; pumpkin, because it can be prepared sweet or savory; and yes). They discovered that his favorite professional culinary experience so far was preparing a duck confit for president Barack Obama during a visit to Harvard Law School. And that one of the biggest professional challenges he had occurred just the weekend before when he prepared a multi-course dinner from scratch for 160 guests.
At the end of the visit, Chef Faison shared what he had baked for the occasion. There were regular, gluten free, and vegan banana custard cupcakes (he had asked ahead of time about all known classroom allergens). There were also homemade potato chips, and goodie bags of treats that students could share with family after school. Chef Faison posed for pictures in front of the classroom welcome banner that bore his image, and even signed autographs before he left.
As their teacher Monica Revert explained, “Chef Faison showed our students a world of possibilities, while giving them a delicious and memorable experience. That was such a fabulous visit. He went above and beyond anything the students and I could have imagined.”
---Abby Luthin, Grants and Communications Specialist