This summer, A’s and Aces, a nonprofit that provides academic assistance, life skills and tennis for New Orleans public school children, added cooking skills to their curriculum. To learn more about their new endeavor, PreventObesity.net sat down to speak with Freya Hoffman-Terry, the chief operations officer and program manager at A’s and Aces.
A’s and Aces hosted three seven-week long camps this summer, reaching about 150 kids in total. “During the school year, we reach about 1,000 kids, and hope to extend the pilot cooking program to them as well,” said Freya. “One reason I work with A’s and Aces is because I want to promote a healthier diet and lifestyle to a younger generation. The more I have worked with youth, I have seen how much obesity can be a barrier to how you can live.”
A’s and Aces teaches all of its students tennis. “Tennis is a lifelong sport, which is one of the reasons that we focus on it,” said Freya. “We start teaching tennis to our groups when they are in kindergarten. We start by teaching them the basics, such as how to talk to each other and catch, which are movements that you will use in all sports.”
“In New Orleans, there are a lot of charter schools without gyms, so we partner with the schools to provide physical activities for kids,” said Freya. “Tennis is something that can be child-sized. We have foam balls that we can use in the classroom. We give kids the opportunity to try a new sport and be active during the day.”
In addition to in-school programming, A’s and Aces provides out-of-school programming, Saturday programs and camps. “We want to teach kids where they are, and provide a way for them to be physically active,” said Freya.
In addition to combating childhood obesity through tennis and nutrition lessons, A’s and Aces has begun teaching new lifelong skills with their new cooking classes. “I have always loved cooking on the side. This summer, we decided to incorporate cooking into our programming since it is so closely aligned with what we do at A’s and Aces. We teach nutrition classes, but we had never taught cooking before,” Freya said. “We start with basic knife skills, the importance of breakfast, portion control, healthy snacking, learning what a healthy portion is and timing your meals.”
A’s and Aces’ new program is called CHOP in a Box. Their endeavor, Cooking up Healthy Options and Portions (CHOP), is a program sponsored by Oschsner Hospital in New Orleans. “Typically it is an eight- to 10-week course that is taught with different lesson plans that are ordered throughout the program. The kids get to prepare food and get to take some of it home,” said Freya. “It is sweet that they want to take it home, share it and show it to their family. They are always so proud of whatever they make.”
Due to their classroom setup, A’s and Aces has had to modify the program some to meet logistical challenges, but the organization has persevered with the class. “We have had to alter how we do the classes because we don't have classrooms setup as kitchens and industrial kitchens,” said Freya. “We have been able to adapt and evolve in order to continue doing these classes. We have been able to borrow some of the basic things for our programs from different places. We have also had to figure out what works and what doesn’t with the program. We are hoping to offer cooking in a year-round program.”
“One of my favorite accomplishments has been seeing how excited the kids are when they try a new food and enjoy it. They have a sense of ownership over what they have made,” said Freya. “One girl said she made granola bars from the recipe that I gave her a few days before. She was beaming that she had done this on her own at home.”