Carly Najera and Dan Lubacz, both teachers at Bensalem High School, weren’t prepared to say “goodbye” to their graduating seniors so soon.
The STEM guitar instructors, who also teach digital photography and industrial design, respectively, thought they’d have an entire school year to instill not only academic knowledge, but invaluable life skills. But that opportunity was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In order to stay in touch with their students and help prepare them for college and the “real world,” Najera and Lubacz host an Instagram Live cooking and baking series every Friday morning, at 11 a.m., at @BHS.DigitalPhotos and @BHS.STEMGuitar. Not only do the students learn how to create banana bread, gluten-free pancakes and more from scratch, they get to discuss the science and tools behind the food.
“A lot of our students are seniors, so the last couple of precious months, they ask you things like, ‘What should I bring when I go away to college? What should I bring if I’m going into the workforce?,’ ” said Najera. “We wanted to give them advice before they leave the nest. Teachers don’t just teach their content. There’s a million other little interactions that happen, and this is sort of our last chance to really connect with our seniors and help them in the best way we know how.”
The idea to launch an Instagram Live series was formed thanks to inspiration from Lubacz’s family.
“My wife over quarantine, she has been buying cookbooks by the dozens, and we’ve been cooking our way through stuff. Our boys every morning would want pancakes, so, we started making pancakes with them in the morning all the time and talking about what they were doing,” Lubacz said.
After his third-grader, who is taking an engineering class called Quest at Linden Elementary, was asked to make pancakes as a project to understand the chemistry behind the mixture, it clicked – what if Lubacz and Najera, self-described “best friends” who share neighboring classrooms, did something similar for their students? Teens could enjoy virtual office hours and a cooking show, all while learning a skill.
“It was a way to tie it all together. We weren’t getting a lot of engagement with our regular office hours, so we thought, maybe let’s bring some normalcy back since they’re isolated. They’re lonely. It was a way to get them more engaged, feel a little more comfortable, just watch their teachers’ banter,” said Najera. “We thought it would be healthy for them to see those things.”
According to Lubacz, it was also a way to give himself and Najera a sense of normalcy.
“We miss them. They miss the normalcy, but I also miss my students and I want to talk to them. I want to see how they’re doing. I want them to hear my voice. I want to see them log in and say, ‘Hello,’ ” he said. “As simple as that is, Carly and I were really missing that interaction that we have with students.”
To date, the pair has shown students how to make apple pie with a lattice crust, arroz con gandules (rice and peas), danish, poached eggs, gluten-free pancakes and banana bread. They intend to keep the series running as long as there’s engagement. And so far, the interest only seems to be growing.
“We’re aware of the students that we teach, and they come from all different backgrounds. Some of our students may be cooking daily for their siblings because their parents are at work,” said Najera. “They may be by themselves all day, and it is expensive to eat out. For some of our college kids, it’s good to know, ‘Hey, you can make this. You can make a loaf of banana bread that will last you a week and you don’t have to go buy Dunkin’ every single day. You can do this for yourself.’ This idea of being self-sufficient, I think that’s really important.”
“We wanted to show the kids, ‘I’m putting this stuff together with next to nothing. I have a bowl and a couple of eggs,’ ” added Lubacz. “You can do these things. You can make these things.”
As the graduating seniors of Bensalem High School move onto bigger and better things, Lubacz shared some words of wisdom.
“When this all started, seniors were really bummed about missing all the senior stuff. But I think as they get older and more time passes, they’re going to always be remembered as this class that went through this pandemic. It will be distinct for them,” said Lubacz. “It will be something that they’ll tell their grandchildren about, ‘I never had a prom’ or ‘I never had a normal graduation, let me tell you why.’ That’s kind of hard to accept and see now at 18 years old, but I think when they’re 35, it’ll be unique. It’ll be a life experience that not all people will have and it’s going to set them apart.”
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org