'Special Assignment: Pizza' makes learning funThe way to a child’s mind is through her stomach, educators hope to prove this week in Grand Forks.
The way to a child’s mind is through her stomach, educators hope to prove this week in Grand Forks.
“Special Assignment: Pizza” aims to teach students about North Dakota’s leading role in agriculture by using one of children’s favorite foods as its starting point.
“Every kid identifies with pizza,” said Steve Sagaser, an NDSU extension agent in Grand Forks. “We use that as a means to help them identify with agriculture. Everything that you grow to make a pizza we grow right here in the Valley.”
Staff, volunteers and college students from the NDSU Extension Service, the North Dakota Farm Bureau and the UND Department of Nutrition and Dietetics had their work cut out for them. When Sagaser asked where pizza comes from, the fourth-graders from northeastern North Dakota shouted, “Italy! Japan! The moon!”
Even though many people associate pizza with Italy, Sagaser explained, North Dakota farmers grow or produce all the crops essential for pizza-making ingredients, including wheat, vegetables, meat, oil crops and cheese.
Students discussed the need for protein and vitamins like thiamin and iron as they learned about the cows and pigs that supply their sausage and Canadian bacon. Educators corrected misperceptions, such as slop being a main source of food for pigs.
“Slop is kind of like junk food for pigs,” extension agent Carrie Knutson told students. Instead, she said, corn and soybeans serve as pigs’ main food.
Educators were sure to include lots of interactive activities, inviting students to squeal like pigs, identify vegetables by feel and grind their own wheat. After the event, students will receive coupons for personal pan pizzas from Dominos.
When the program started 17 years ago, about 1,000 children participated in Special Assignment: Pizza. That number has slowly dwindled to less than 800 because of the area’s shrinking population.
Despite decreasing numbers, the program continues to develop. This year will be the first time home-schooled children participate. North Dakota Mill also became a sponsor.
One of the best parts of the long-running program is seeing students become teachers, Sagaser said.
“Some of the original fourth-graders are now dietetics students at UND,” Sagaser said.
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