Case study: School's recipe for celebrating culture

Food has been a key ingredient used by Canley Vale Public School principal Brad Lanham to help bind his school and community together during 2020.

Mrs Ly and Mr Lanham bow for the camera over their table of ingredients in this still from the Facebook video.
Image: #Learningtogether: Mrs Ly and Mr Lanham bow for the camera at the beginning of Episode 1 of the Canley Vale Cooking Show.

The five-part Canley Vale Cooking Show, which premiered on the school’s Facebook page, featured Mr Lanham learning to prepare meals with ‘chefs’ from various cultural groups, while narrating the process in the language of the meal.

Mr Lanham said the series was inspired by his desire to maintain “visible leadership” while students were learning from home.

He said it was important he did this via a medium that connected with his predominantly English as a second language families.

“Many principals were doing this [being visible] through reading literature, however I decided that the best way to do this with our school community was through cooking,” he said.

“At Canley Vale food is at the centre of everything - showing appreciation, get-togethers, celebrations.

“Therefore, cooking became the focus and obviously with a 96.5% EAL/D community, language needed to be incorporated.”

Mr Lanham, who put himself up for the humiliation of being the chefs’ kitchen assistant, said he saw the cooking series as a way to have a laugh while celebrating the varied cultures within the school.

“Also, it gave families an opportunity to do something at home with their children that was not academic in focus,” Mr Lanham said.

For the series Mr Lanham worked under the direction of school support and language staff from five language groups: Khmer, Vietnamese, Mandarin, Arabic and Cantonese.

Mr Lanham laughed at the suggestion he had mastered any of the languages.

“If you hear me you’ll know I’m definitely not fluent, I had to learn as we went along,” he said.

“Some of the chefs would let me get away with intonation errors (Vietnamese) while others insisted on the correct intonation (Mandarin). It was a lot of fun [but] Arabic was the hardest.”

His efforts at speaking some of Canley Vale Public’s home languages has had an interesting impact.

“Many of the students now speak to me in their home languages at the gate each morning and afternoon ... I think they think I am fluent so I definitely need to pick up my game.

“There are 43 languages spoken at home at CVPS, though, so I have a long way to go.”

More importantly however, Mr Lanham said the series had showed “we valued the cultures of our school, which embraces the department’s multicultural values and our school ethos”.

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