PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Some special-education students in Portland soon will learn the finer points of cooking thanks to rock superstar Paul Simon.

Simon recently donated $10,000 to Portland Public Schools and the district decided to use most of the funds for culinary programs for special education students. Half of the money went to Lane Middle School and the other half went to the Community Transition Program, which serves 130 students, ages 18 to 21, who have completed high school but have a variety of challenges, such as Down syndrome or severe autism. 

Simon donated to local organizations at each stop of his 2018 worldwide farewell tour.

The Community Transition Program combined Simon’s $5,000 with $5,000 from the Oregon Community Foundation and is building a teaching kitchen on the campus, at 6801 S.E. 60th Ave., to teach the students some basic culinary skills.

The Community Transition Program helps adult students gain life and job skills to navigate the world after high school. 

“We thought it would be great to put in a training kitchen here because many of our students want to get into the culinary field,” said Thelina O’Daniel, Community Transition principal.

The kitchen at Community Transition Program will allow students to learn basic culinary skills — such as knife handling and food prep — from chefs in the community who have agreed to give mini-lessons, O’Daniel said.

The kitchen will comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, featuring a sink and center island that will allow students in wheelchairs to roll right up.

The kitchen will use produce grown at the school’s Green Thumb nursery, where students grow a variety of plants sold throughout the year.

“A lot of the ingredients for sandwiches and salads will be a farm-to-table thing,” O’Daniel said. About 50 students will use the kitchen, which will be built starting this month and is expected to be completed in March or April.

The Community Transition Program students will make sandwiches, coffee and other food and deliver them to nearby Lane Middle School for teachers and staff.

The Transition Program students are placed in internships to get jobs skills to prepare them for regular employment. Students work as interns in the kitchen at Legacy Good Samaritan Medical Center, at the downtown Meals on Wheels People, and at a coffee cart at the American Red Cross Blood Donation Center in North Portland.

“It’s really exciting,” O’Daniel said of the skills her students can learn in the new kitchen.
Lane Middle School, 7200 S.E. 60th Ave., also is cooking up learning with the Simon funds.
Briana Singh, a speech therapist, started a “cooking club” during class time for special-education students at Lane. 

“Twice a month we work on healthy cooking and eating the rainbow,” she said. Eating the rainbow means students are eating a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables: carrots, broccoli, grapes, red peppers, etc.

The club not only reinforces healthy eating but hones the kids’ math, fine motor and social skills.
“They’re hands-on tasks to build independence,” Singh said.

Hopefully some of the recipes will include parsley, sage, rosemary or thyme. 

The Portland Tribune is a KOIN 6 News media partner.