Cool Cats cooks up inclusion, independence

By Traci Chapman
Staff Writer

Mustang Centennial Elementary teachers Ryan Smith and Kayla Tagmir whip up nachos with some of their students during a recent taping of Cool Cats, a Facebook cooking show created as a way to engage with students after COVID-19 disrupted the school year. Fellow teacher and Cool Cats creator Joshua Frazier was unable to be at the July 3 taping. (Photo by Traci Chapman)

This week it might be nachos, brownies are always a favorite and perhaps spaghetti will be next. The recipes are always different, but one thing always is the same – three Mustang teachers’ hope they will engage and entertain students of all ages through a love of cooking.

That engagement comes courtesy Cool Cat Cuisine, a weekly Facebook cooking show made possible by the efforts of Mustang Centennial Elementary teachers Ryan Smith, Joshua Frazier and Kayla Tagmir and developed to expand lessons of inclusion and acceptance of disabled students taught during a normal school year, Smith said – and the universal nature of cooking makes it perfect for teachers who work with children dealing with disabilities and who want them to succeed far beyond elementary school.

“This program is designed to cultivate a culture of inclusion and acceptance in our school by developing peer buddies to work with and befriend students in our functional life skills program,” Smith said. “Cool Cat Cuisine is quite simply a platform to promote accessible and inclusive cooking activities for families and people of all abilities.”

The trio developed Cool Cat Cuisine in late March, after the district’s students, teachers and staff found themselves for the most part working from home due to the coronavirus pandemic, Smith said. Wishing to ensure they were engaging with their students, Smith, Frazier and Tagmir decided cooking was a great way to do just that.

“We wanted to bring universally accessible and inclusive culinary instruction to our audience – the show began as a way to provide engaging cooking lessons through the period of distance learning brought about by COVID-19,” Smith said.

The team determines the dishes they want to prepare, modifying many to make sure they are accessible to everyone – including people with special dietary needs.
Since its launch, Cool Cat Cuisine has featured a host of guest chefs, including current and former students of the three teachers, as well as Mustang Centennial PAL students, Smith said.

“We’ve also featured guests that include fellow teachers in Mustang, Oklahoma Education Association President Alicia Priest and Erin Taylor of the Oklahoma Developmental Disabilities Council,” he said. “We are more than happy to include any guest chefs who share these values.”

“The sole purpose of all we do in service to people with disabilities is to convey the reality that they can be independent and empowered citizens who can and do advocate for themselves and are deserving of the same dignity, value and respect as their non-disabled peers,” Smith said. “We believe the word ‘special’ creates segregation for people with disabilities, and our goal is to create opportunities to correct this by making cooking accessible, inclusive and fun.”

Cool Cat Cuisine can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/coolcatcuisine/. Anyone wanting more information or who wishes to be a guest chef can contact Smith by phone at 405-494-0819 or via email at [email protected]

Mustang Centennial Elementary teachers Ryan Smith and Kayla Tagmir whip up nachos with some of their students during a recent taping of Cool Cats, a Facebook cooking show created as a way to engage with students after COVID-19 disrupted the school year. Fellow teacher and Cool Cats creator Joshua Frazier was unable to be at the July 3 taping. (Photo by Traci Chapman)

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