Midtown West is almost an oxymoron: we’re a tight-knit community smack dab in the center of the universe, or as the world would say, Times Square in New York City. As principal of this amazing school, I never could have imagined what happened when I crossed paths with one of our students.
Almost a year ago now, I had a bright, young student named Arden come to me and announce that she had entered a national cooking contest sponsored by the Uncle Ben’s® Brand with her family. She and her parents let me know that the prize included a makeover for our school cafeteria. But in order for her to be in the running, she needed the support of Midtown West. She needed us to vote for her video. Curious about this contest, I did some research and was impressed by the mission: The Ben’s Beginners™ Cooking Contest is a national program that encourages parents to get their children in the kitchen to teach them about cooking and healthy eating habits.
Our school, led by Arden and her family, spread the word about voting for her video. Our community responded by supporting her with its online votes and social media outreach. During our weekly community meeting, where students, parents, teachers and the PTA gather, Arden was able to really rally people behind her for the possibility of improving the school. When the school found out Arden was a finalist, the community was overjoyed. Because of her advancement in the contest, we knew Midtown West had secured at least $10,000 to update our cafeteria and were in the running for the grand prize of $30,000.
In the end, Arden was one of two runner-up contestants to the Ben’s Beginners™ contest and Midtown West received $10,000 we so desperately needed for our elementary school kitchen. Because of the Uncle Ben’s® Brand, we are using the prize money to remodel a teaching kitchen and cafeteria area by updating all appliances and making plumbing available to the kitchen. The prize money will allow not only a safer cooking environment, but also an opportunity for our students to cook healthier meals and be more hands-on. Her simple entry into the contest will spread the love of cooking to thousands more Midtown West students.
In the end, what started as a fun way to rally our community together will end up educating many children for years to come. All schools and PTAs should encourage participation in the Ben’s Beginners™ Cooking Contest to their students and parents. At the very least, families will have joined together for a night of fun in the kitchen, and your school may even win a cafeteria makeover.
Ryan Bourke is the principal at New York City school, Midtown West which was a 2013 Runner up in the Ben’s Beginners™ Cooking Contest.