While Alexandria Walden slices a pineapple in cubes, Gabriela Garcia cuts a banana. The two Booker T. Washington High students Alexandria is a freshman, Gabriela is a sophomore are preparing a parfait, complete with yogurt and granola.
On the table across from their work station, Kashia Kencey and Christian Shephard, both 14, are scrambling eggs and slicing tomatoes for wheat bread sandwiches with basil. Kashia is a student at Miami Arts Charter and Christian attends Monsignor Edward Pace High in Opa-locka.
The students are part of the weekly Overtown Youth Center cooking class, where about 20 students from local high schools learn to make meals that, for the most part, are not part of their everyday diet. From mussels and jambalaya to guacamole and pumpkin pancakes, the menu reads like a trendy, four-star restaurant.
A lot of them are like, Ive never tried this before. Its something new to them and they never thought they would like certain stuff, said Adler Dorvilus, who teaches the cooking class.
The class is part of the national HealthCorps program, a nonprofit founded in 2003 by cardiothoracic surgeon, author and TV personality Dr. Mehmet Oz and his wife, Lisa. HealthCorps strives to teach U.S. high school students about nutrition, exercise and the value of leading healthier lifestyles.
Dorvilus, the HealthCorps coordinator at Booker T. Washington, said his efforts are paying off.
Last year they were like, I am not eating wheat bread. This time I didnt hear that, he said after the cooking class. I didnt see anyone take the basil out or take the tomato out.
HealthCorps coordinators like Dorvilus are in 66 schools throughout 14 states and the District of Columbia. In 2008, Booker T. and Hialeah high schools were included in the HealthCorps program the only Miami-Dade County schools that participate.
HealthCorps targets schools in lower socio-economic areas, said Shawn Hayes, HealthCorps chief academic officer. Coordinators are present at schools where 50 percent or more of the students receive free or reduced lunch. At Hialeah High, 88 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch, according to Caridad Curbelo, office assistant at the school. At Booker T. Washington, 98 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch, Dorvilus said.
The schools we are in are really high-need schools, said Hayes. You are not going to have a Williams-Sonoma around Hialeah High.
HealthCorps is funded through grants, foundations, fundraisers and corporate sponsors, such as Kashi Foods, which distributes its products for free to schools. California and New Jersey governments also contribute funds to HealthCorps programs in their states, Hayes said.
Unlike many health programs that are fighting obesity in U.S. kids, HealthCorps does not target obese or overweight children. It is an all-inclusive four-year program that strives to give the students the tools and confidence to change their lifestyle for life.
Many, many people go on diets, and they do OK for a while but they cant stick to it, said Hayes. Its easy to say but hard to do. They dont understand that these kinds of changes require mental strength.
Indeed, mental strength is one of the three pillars the others being healthy eating and exercise on which HealthCorps is based.