Fridley teachers tackle different homework assignment: potluck dinners

Contrary to popular belief among kids, teachers have lives outside of school.

Fridley School District teachers have been practicing this lesson and have been getting to know one another with frequent, small-group, potluck dinners.

As part of the district’s International Baccalaureate’s international mindedness and wellness themes, Dan Buettner, author of “The Blue Zones” and “Thrive,” spoke to teachers at the Fridley Middle and High schools about his travels. Conducted through his work with National Geographic and the healthcare industry, he has interviewed centurions from all over the world about why they live so long and why their lives are so rich, District 14 K-12 Technology Integration Coordinator Kathy Kraemer told Sun Newspapers, who is related to Buettner through a family member’s marriage.

One of the traditions Buettner discussed is from the Japanese in Okinawa and is called the moais (pronounced mo-eye). As Kraemer described, in this tradition, a child is assigned to four other children the same age. They become a “family” with these children and establish a bond for the rest of their lives. In Buettner’s presentation in Fridley, he showed a photo of five Japanese women in their 90s who have been in the same moais for 85 years.

Fourteen staff members, including Kraemer, decided to follow suit with dinner moais groups.

Buettner had already started moais groups in California and Iowa, as well as a walking moais group in Albert Lea, Minn. So, with Buettner’s direction, Fridley Schools staff began a “healthy dining” moais. They formed small groups, and each group created their own calendar to meet for potluck dinners every other week for about 10 weeks, beginning in the fall of 2011 and ending in the spring of 2012.

The groups created themes for the meals each time they met and followed healthy dinner guidelines. Meals included an appetizer, a salad, a main dish and a dessert, but with little or no meat, a variety of vegetables and sweet desserts with no sugar, Kraemer said. Assignments for the dishes shifted frequently so everyone could try different aspects of the meal.

“At the dinners, we were not allowed to talk about work.  Because of this rule, we were able to get to know each other in a whole new way. Most members didn’t know each other in the beginning, but by the end of the 10 weeks, they knew a lot of details about each members’ lives because they started to have a monthly history with each member,” Kraemer said.

The project concluded with a potluck dinner at Buettner’s home.

“Overall, the project was a hit,” Kraemer said. “The moais that I’m in (chose) to keep going with the dinners over the summer. … There are other folks at Fridley who want to start up more moais in the fall.”

In another moais, Becky Beck, Fridley Middle School media specialist and broadcast class teacher, said her moais planned to meet over the summer, but conflicting schedules prevented them from meeting. Beck said her group has plans to meet in September, but they haven’t yet talked about meeting for the rest of the school year.

“Well, first of all, we were supposed to get into groups of people we didn’t know, (in her moais, there were) two people I didn’t know very well, and the rest I knew pretty well. But I got to know the people I knew even better, and the ones I didn’t know, it was great to get to know them really well. We laughed a lot and found out a lot about each other and learned from each other,” Beck said.

“It brought us closer and we know about each others’ families and in that way, it’s been really cool,” she added.

Beck said she would “definitely” recommend the experience to others.

“It was kind of a way to ‘get away’ and to just sit with people and talk. … We shared a lot about our lives, and it was just kind of a freeing feeling. … We had good food and great company, and it was fun,” Beck said.

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