Manitoba·Urban Myths

Cooking classes connect families, community at Brandon's Betty Gibson School

From the outside, Brandon’s Betty Gibson School looks like any other. But take a walk through the front doors, and you’ll find a multicultural world with students from nearly every continent inside.

Students have explored cuisine from several of the 17 different countries represented at the school

Families chop lettuce and dice tomatoes in preparation for a meal at Brandon's Betty Gibson School. A cooking class is bringing together families from 17 countries represented at the school. (Riley Laychuk/CBC )

From the outside, Brandon's Betty Gibson School looks like any other. There's a gym, a play structure, lots of classrooms.

But take a walk through the front doors, and you'll find a multicultural world with students from nearly every continent inside — something a new cooking class at the school celebrates by bringing together students, and their parents, who come from across the globe.

"We have students from about 17 countries" at the kindergarten to Grade 8 school, said principal Blaine Aston.

"It's a great little community school. It's a really unique experience with having so many diverse cultures that are learning from each other."

Aside from students born and raised in Canada, Aston said some of the 315 students at the school in the southwestern Manitoba city come from countries like Colombia, Honduras, El Salvador, China, Ukraine, Syria, Sudan and Ethiopia, just to name a few.

He said while having students that speak so many different languages can pose its challenges — some start school not knowing much English and require additional help and translators to learn — it's also rewarding for both the newcomer students and those born in Canada.
Chili was on the menu, along with Indigenous tacos, at Wednesday night's class. Families have helped cook meals from several different countries since the classes started. (Riley Laychuk/CBC )

"Recess and gym classes are really neat, when kids play together and really kind of communicate though activity," he said. "It's really neat to see kids learn about different cultures."

Aston said while the school tries to give newcomer kids a "Canadian experience" at school, different cultures and countries are also prominently celebrated and featured in school programming.

Cooking class celebrates diversity

Part of that celebration is the new community cooking class, started this year by the school's parent council as a way for parents and students to meet and connect with each other.

Each class features cuisine from a different country and parents are also given tips on how to prepare healthy meals for their kids.
Glenda Halkett and her son River have attended several of the classes. (Riley Laychuk/CBC )

"I didn't realize how diverse the community was here at the school," said Ashley Sadler, president of the parent council.

This week, the smells of chili and Indigenous tacos filled the hallways of the school one night. Other weeks have featured food from South America and China.

Families and students get together and learn how to prepare the meal and then enjoy it together, all while learning about where the participants have come from and how they ended up in Brandon.

Attendance was low to start, but Sadler said as many as 17 parents and children have taken part in recent weeks.

"It's been amazing. It's been really nice to hear conversations and hear about everyone's backgrounds," she said. "We've had a lot of good feedback from the attendees so far."

Glenda Halkett and her two kids, ages five and eight, have been regulars at the classes.

"I'm open to trying new things all the time," said Halkett, who is originally from Brochet, Man., a tiny community in northern Manitoba. "When I first brought them here, it was really different for them."

But now, "they enjoy it. They have friends from different cultures and stuff."

Ashley Sadler is the president of Betty Gibson's parent council, which is helping organize the classes. (Riley Laychuk/CBC )

Sadler said a grant from the Brandon Neighbourhood Renewal Corporation helps purchase food and supplies for the after-school class, which typically lasts a couple of hours and takes place in a multipurpose room at the school.

"With a group like this and having a room that's half a classroom, the kids can come and play while the adults cook," said Sadler.

She said the group will pause for spring break, but will be back up and running after that. Her hope is to one day cook dishes from every country represented at the school.

"I can only see it growing from here on out," she said.

Urban Myths is a CBC series that explores Manitoba communities and their sometimes surprising stories.

More from the Brandon Urban Myths series: