Story and photos by Beth Donze, Clarion Herald
A Catholic “tie-in” occurred to Evey Berner, the 35-year kindergarten teacher at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School in Kenner, as her students approached Lent 2006: Jesus is often called “the bread of life,” so why not use literal bread – the most commonly eaten food in the world – as a means of teaching youngsters a wide range of classroom lessons?
Every Lent since then, Berner and her fellow St. Elizabeth kindergarten teachers have led their students in an inter-disciplinary unit called “Bread: The Staff of Life.” The lessons often include making the various breads in school and sampling them afterward.
“I developed this (curriculum) because we had so many people coming to our local area from other countries, and we wanted to not only give self-esteem to those children, but also teach our (American-born) children about those countries,” Berner said.
Breads studied by the kindergartners this past Lent included soda bread (Ireland); beignets and croissants (France); St. Joseph bread and panettone (Italy); pretzels and pumpernickel bread (Germany); fortune cookies (China); and baleadas (Honduras).
“Every year it differs, according to the ethnicity of the class,” Berner explained. “For America, we baked whole wheat, white and corn bread.”
Bread lends itself perfectly to inter-disciplinary studies. By the end of the unit, Berner’s students, and those of her fellow kindergarten teacher Brooke Englert, were able to locate every continent, ocean, country (and its major cities); create “bread books” on one of their spotlighted countries in computer; examine magnified wheat kernels and flour, do experiments on the role of yeast and grow bread mold in science; use math skills to measure bread ingredients and make graphs of their favorite breads; and learn vocabulary words such as “bran,” “knead and “mill” in language arts.
The significance of bread was also underscored in the kindergarteners’ religion classes, including in their study of the Eucharist, memorization of the Lord’s Prayer and learning of the hymn “Jesus, You are Bread for Us.”
On April 17, as the youngsters neared Easter break, they joined with their fifth grade buddies to make “Resurrection Bread,” another religion tie-in. The recipe was simple: after rolling biscuit dough into balls and wrapping them around a marshmallow, the youngsters rolled the balls in a cinnamon-sugar mixture symbolizing the “dirt” that covered Jesus’ tomb. The marshmallow, representing Jesus in his white death shroud, “disappeared” into the dough ball as it baked, creating a hollow interior resembling an empty tomb.
In yet another Lenten activity, the kindergartners brought bags of sliced bread to school to make 400 sandwiches for delivery to homeless individuals seeking the help of the Rebuild Center at St. Joseph Church in New Orleans.
“To give money to a cause means nothing to a 5-year-old,” Berner noted. “But to bring bread from home and actually make a sandwich means they actually know they are feeding Jesus.”