Chef Leigh’s Backpack of Blessings

Chef Leigh’s Backpack of Blessings
Meet Our FINAL High 5 Winner, Chef Leigh


Teacher Peach is thrilled to present the 5th winner of Teacher Peach’s “Granting Teacher Goals!” High 5 Initiative, Chef Leigh!

Chef Leigh is gearing up to help those around her and her school who are less fortunate most specifically, those who find themselves presently homeless. This heartfelt High 5 Initiative reaches out into the community by developing a backpack project for those individuals and families who are currently homeless. Through charitable donations from local companies and organizations, Chef Leigh and her amazing and dedicated students gather materials and fill backpacks with useful items that truly matter—items many of us may take for granted. These thoughtful care kits not only help need some very basic needs, on a deeper level, these dignified gifts help remind people that there are people who care and want to help. This initiative helps increase student, neighborhood, and community awareness and sends a message that everyone can do something to help someone else! Teacher Peach is thrilled to help through our High 5 Initiative award, too.

LeeAndra Khan, who carefully judged all of the entries in Teacher Peach’s High 5 Initiative, explains why this project was chosen as the final winning entry. “Community Service projects not only teach students to collaborate and engage, this kind of project goes even further, teaching students the importance of having—and showing—empathy for others. Students participating in this project will also gain vital leadership skills that they will be able to apply in all of their future endeavors.”

Chef Leigh Says . . .
We had the privilege of interviewing Chef Leigh about her experiences in education and her goals for this particular project. She shared her thinking and views as follows—

TP: How long have you been teaching?
CL: All my life! I have always enjoyed sharing with others. About eight years ago, I was approached by a local technical college and asked to teach in the Culinary Arts Department. I really had a wonderful time there. Then, I was asked to consider teaching at the local high school. Having made it through high school once, I honestly was not all that eager to return, but return I did. I put on my dress uniform, my best smile, and did my best in the interview. It must have been right for all of us because I had a contract offer before I even got home. The rest, as they say, is history!

TP: Why did you become a teacher?
CL: Originally I starting teaching because I was looking for a job in the culinary field and a position opened up at the college level. It wasn’t until I began teaching high school that I realized that teaching was my “surprise destiny!”  Something just “clicked” for me when I started working with students at the high school level. My students really are eager to hear and be heard.  Once I really understood how to communicate with my students, and listen to what they have to say to me, I really began to hit my stride as an effective teacher. It takes both students and teachers to make any learning experience work.

TP: What are the most inspiring aspects of teaching for you?
CL: One of the most thrilling and inspiring aspects of teaching is being able to witness that true “aha” moment—when a student finally “gets it” and the light bulb goes on. That expression is one that can carry me for along time.Helping students engage and become hooked into what I am hoping to teach can be done so many ways and usually the kids will tell you what works best for them if you, as a teacher, are open to spotting it. I am so thankful to be on the faculty of a project-based-learning school. Here, I have the freedom to use many different avenues for instruction. I’m happy to report that it is never quite “status quo” in my classroom. On any given day, we typically have four or five different tasks going on, all of them relevant and filled with real-world connections. I know I do a lot to prepare, as any teacher should, but it’s like a stage: when the students arrive, I love seeing their individual progress and our group progress unfold in front of me.

TP: How do you think this project will impact your students and what outcomes are you hoping to achieve?
CL: Our Backpack Project is a leadership initiative through LEAD2FEED and this is the second semester we have worked through this program. It was written for high school students to allow them the opportunity to create and control a project that impacts our local community. Many of my students didn’t even realize that we had homeless students in our school, much less in the community. They had associated homelessness with downtown Atlanta where they knew there are people living under the bridges, and so forth, but not in our own community.

Through research and discussion, we were able to team up with a local church that serves the homeless population. We sponsored Candy Grams for Valentine’s Day and sold over 300! We used the proceeds to purchase items for the backpacks. Our BIG GOAL is 50 packs- 25 for local high school students and 25 to be passed out to those outside of school who may also need these items. To date, eight different clubs or teams at our school have joined in by donating needed items—and it continues to grow.

My students are now so much more aware that “societal” issues are applicable everywhere—including our own community. They have become much more civic minded, too. Hopefully, this knowledge will stick with them and will become a part of what they carry into adulthood. Having the chance to know that they are able to personally do something to make a difference to others is very powerful to learn at 15 and 16 years old. It means a lot to these kids—and to those they help.  

TP: What advice would you have for other teachers?
CL: Have confidence in your students! Our students are amazing people. Get to know that. Don’t just let them out of the traditional “box” of education—really invite them out. ANYTHING can be turned into an applicable lesson with a little forethought.  REALLY listen to what they have to say (even if it seems silly) and above all, be honest with them. My kids trust me more because I admit when I am wrong and when I admit I don’t know the answer. We all know it takes time to build relationships; take that time because it is worth it.  Sometimes the best thing you can do as a teacher is to just stop and really listen. When your students trust you—and you believe in them—you will be amazed at what can happen!

Sparked by Chef Leigh?
Chef Leigh’s advice is inspiring and motivating! Teacher Peach is proud to help Chef Leigh and her students as they continue to work to help the homeless and grow to be more engaged and involved in their community. In addition to the $100 award, Teacher Peach is also sharing some awesome products with Chef Leigh and her students.

Check out these Teacher Peach products Chef Leigh will use in both the backpacks and in her classroom …

Stick’R Treat Mega Stickers Collection
Little Black Books
What ideas does Chef Leigh’s project spark for you? How could you create or adapt a project like this for your students? What spaces surround your classroom that could be enlivened by the creativity of your kids?

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