Article by: Melina Gonzalez | Common Threads
July 24, 2019 – After nearly 10 years of working with Common Threads, Principal Debra Dubin will be retiring from North Miami Elementary. Mrs. Dubin was the principal when North Miami Elementary first signed on to participate in Common Threads’ Cooking Skills & World Cuisine classes. North Miami was the second school in Miami-Dade County to agree to collaborate with the Common Threads organization. We had the gracious opportunity to sit down with her before her last day and ask her about her thoughts and experiences with Miami-Dade County Public Schools and Common Threads.
How did you get introduced to Common Threads?
Common Threads reached out to me. At that time, Common Threads just offered the after-school cooking program. We talked about the nutrition component of the program and the benefits to the school as a whole. We talked about the opportunity for our students, considering the needs of our students and their families. This program would be such a benefit if children learn not only how to eat nutritiously, but how to cook nutritiously. The program gives them the chance to learn basic cooking skills to help their parents who are often always working.
How does it feel to know that your school is the second school in Miami-Dade to have joined Common Threads program?
Oh, that's exciting! I didn't know that. I have always cherished our relationship with the program, we've watched it expand and we have expanded with it to now incorporate the Small Bites program within the school day. We have a food forest here at North Miami Elementary, which we utilize with Common Threads in the ingredients portion of the program. So we've now been able to fully integrate the entire school into a kind of nutritious program built within the school’s environment.
Why did you choose to continue to work with Common Threads throughout the years?
Common Threads has been a wonderful organization to work with. They provide everything you need, so they make it very easy to partake in their programming as far as on the school’s part. They provide training for the teacher and support. They provide the chef instructors, of course, for the after-school program. They provide even the funds to supply all the food that is needed, not only for the after-school program, but for the Small Bites program as well. So they've made it beyond very, very easy and very comfortable for our school to want to work with them.
Throughout all these years working with Common Threads, what would you say is your favorite moment or experience you can share?
The family after-school cooking classes are by far my most favorite moments, it brings tears to my eyes even now when I watch the children. There have been two families that come to mind right away, where there were two children from the families that were there with their parents cooking side by side. The enthusiasm, the passion that you could see right there, the parents were so excited to learn about all these different cooking techniques. The class even gave them homework one day and the homework was to recreate the meal they learned at home, and what did Common Threads do? They provided the families with the ingredients to go home and complete the homework. What other program does that? It's like you're giving them a free meal that you just taught them how to prepare. They enjoy preparing it together and now they're able to go home to prepare it again as a family.
What is the number one thing a child can take away from a Common Threads class?
There are so many things that they're going to learn. I mean, they're going to learn knife skills and so many other cooking techniques, but most importantly they have to work together. Whether it is the cooking component or the cleaning component, the teamwork its really the underlying skill that is involved in all of this. That is something that many children lack and now they can apply it in a real life situation.
What are some reasons you would tell other schools why they should choose to incorporate Common Threads in their school?
There are only benefits to having Common Threads incorporated into your school. Many times our children do not have enough things to do once school ends and they often end up going home to an empty house. So the Common Threads after-school program provides another club for children to get involved in. The students gain teamwork, cooking skills, nutrition education and the knowledge of how to prepare different meals. They learn how to make small, nutritious snacks in Small Bites that they can easily do at home with no parent supervision, and they do not need cooking skills. They can help sustain themselves, all of that is such a benefit, and Common Threads provides it all.
As a principal, how does it feel now retiring? What are you going to miss the most?
You’re going to make me cry just thinking about it. I'm going to miss everything, the community, the kids, and my parents. I love my parents! My parents are tough, don't get me wrong, but my parents care so much about their kids and they are sometimes misunderstood. So my thing has been I reach out to them and I try to make sure they know that I'm always available. But, I am going to miss North Miami Elementary.
Common Threads was founded in Chicago in 2003 by CEO Linda Novick O’Keefe, celebrity chef Art Smith and his husband, artist Jesus Salgueiro, as a way to bring under-resourced children together, help them celebrate different cultures and teach them about healthy nutrition. From its humble beginnings in a church basement, Common Threads now services children and families in 13 markets, including Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Washington D.C., Miami, Pittsburgh, Austin, Jacksonville, San Antonio, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Houston, El Paso and Erie. For more information, visit commonthreads.org, or search #CookingForLife on social media.