Watson Educator Teaches Community Engagement & Support

Educators at the Watson Institute’s Friendship Academy are always looking for ways to help our students grow academically and socially. In addition to classroom learning, educators aim to instill the importance of building positive connections in the community.

Friendship Academy is a special education school with programs for children between the ages of 5 to 21 with emotional and behavioral health challenges. Students at Friendship attend various content area classes such as science, art, math, and family consumer science, similar to a typical middle or high school student, with added supports to help them have a successful day at school.

Recently, Mimi Bell, the Family Consumer Science Teacher at Friendship, came across an article about Rose McGee, founder of Sweet Potato Comfort Pies. In 2014, Ms. McGee witnessed events unfolding in the news and knew she wanted to spread positivity and comfort to communities impacted by tragedies. One way she knew how to share love was through baking.

Every year since then, Ms. McGee has baked Sweet Potato pies for communities all over the United States affected by tragedies. She also launched an annual tradition of baking pies in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. She bakes one pie for every year in age Dr. King would be turning and shares them with members of the community in need of support. This year she and her team baked 91 pies to celebrate his birthday.

Ms. Bell was inspired by this act of community support and began researching how she could incorporate Ms. McGee’s tradition into a lesson for her students in the week leading up to Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Students Learn Importance of Community Engagement

Ms. Bell utilized each class period in the days preceding MLK Jr. Day to teach her students about Ms. McGee and her philosophy on comfort pies and community building. She led the students in discussions on the importance of engaging with the communities in which they reside to share ideas and show support.

Ms. Bell and the students chose the Zone 5 Pittsburgh Police Department as the recipients of their comfort pies because they recognized that the Police Officers do a lot to support Friendship Academy students and the East Liberty community at-large.

The students involved in the project spanned grades 8 through 12 and each brought their unique talents and experiences to the activity. One day in class, Sally and Latazhia (10th grade students) worked with Ms. Bell to learn how to make the sweet potato pie filling from scratch, following Ms. McGee’s recipe.

Once the filling was completed, students in another class helped fill the pie crusts (made ahead of time by Ms. Bell) and rolled out the signature heart shapes to finish off the pies with an extra special touch.

After the pies had a chance to cool and set overnight, Ms. Bell taught a group of students how to package the pies for delivery. Then, Dalton, Devin, Nick, and Savannah went to the Zone 5 Police Station to deliver the pies to the officers at work along with Ms. Bell and Ms. Venson.

The students were given the opportunity to talk with Officer Gay, Community Relations Officer for Zone 5, about their project and enjoyed hearing from him more about what a typical day is like for a Pittsburgh Police Officer.

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