Glenbrook North students took a break from calculus tests and research papers on Wednesday with a mock Iron Chef competition, yoga instruction and a class on scuba diving conducted in the pool.
Those programs were just some of 80 different sessions hosted during the school’s first “Spartans Connect” workshop, which brought students, teachers, staff, parents and local business owners in to the classroom to talk about their passions. While Glenbrook North has held workshops for the entire school in the past—on such subjects as drugs and alcohol and relationships—this was the first workshop day devoted entirely to the school community’s hobbies and personal interests.
“This event gives students the chance to explore new learning opportunities or connect around common passions with their peers and member of the community,” said Ryan Bretag, coordinator of instructional technology at Glenbrook North and one of the organizers of the daylong event.
In the morning, principal Paul Pryma regaled a packed classroom with his list of favorite “Diners and Dives” around the city. As a former basketball coach at St. Ignatius College Prep in Little Italy, Pryma visited hundreds of schools in Chicago—and made sure to try the local eats nearby.
His list ranged from Rainbow Cone, a neighborhood institution that makes its own ice cream in Beverly, to Gene & Georgetti’s, “the most recognized Chicago steakhouse if you really just want to overeat,” as Pryma put it.
Several of his favorites were located near his old turf in Little Italy, including Tufano’s Restaurant and Mario’s Italian Lemonade, an Italian ice shop on Taylor Street.
“You’ll see the biggest, wealthiest celebrities pull up for a lemonade next to people from the housing project just down the street,” he said. “It’s the greatest symphony of Chicago residents.”
Pryma said he organized the workshop to encourage students to get out of town and explore Chicago, and to connect with them on a different level.
“Spartans Connect is about building relationships and a respectful, friendly community,” he said.
While Pryma was discussing some of his most beloved eateries, students were making their own concoctions in a mock Iron Chef competition held in a culinary arts classroom.
The competition was the idea of juniors Audrey Chou and Patricia Hare, both of whom love the Food Network and proposed the session to teachers earlier this year.
“Basically, it’s a day for sharing your passions,” Hare said. “We watch Iron Chef a lot.”
During the 90-minute class, a half dozen teams of four to five students competed to make the most creative, most attractive and most delicious dessert. Foods were donated by by Sunset Foods, Target and Whole Foods, and guest judges included representatives of Allgauer’s Restaurant and Sunset Foods.
As their “secret ingredient,” Hare and Chou chose mint, supplying the chefs with fresh mint leaves and mint flavored cookies.
“Until last week we had been planning on marshmallow, but we thought we’d get a lot of s’mores,” Hare explained.
The students’ creations included ice cream mixed with graham crackers, chopped mint and fresh orange; wafer cookies filled with chocolate pudding and decorated with pineapple and mint; and mint chocolate chip cookies served with sautéed apples and a shot glass of chocolate milk.
After culinary arts teacher Kim Petty gave the final countdown to students to drop everything and serve their concoctions, the judges pronounced the chocolate pudding-filled wafer cookies their favorite.
“It was actually all edible, I’m really impressed,” said Petty.
Champions Megan Smith, Daisy Hernandez and Erika Beishen, all seniors, said the dessert was a group idea.
“We just got all of the ingredients and winged it,” Smith said.
As the students cleaned up their creations, and one group dug in to the judges’ leftovers, Chou and Hare raised a pair of Oreos in celebration.
“It worked out really well, actually,” Chou said.
They admitted there was just one glitch, however—the two would have liked to participate themselves.
“We were thinking, ‘Oh, if we had this, if we had that,’” Hare said.
Workshops continued all afternoon, giving students a chance to try their hand at dissection and a clinical exam during “mini medical school,” ask questions of Cook County Judge Kay Hanlon and learn about the spiritual aspects of riding motorcyles.
“By bringing our students together in this way, it really strengthens our relationship as Spartans,” said organizer Ryan Bretag.