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Why Bill Gates learned to cook a barbecue chicken

He’s taking a lesson from Washington’s teacher of the year, who uses cooking to teach math and science while making sure his students don’t go hungry.

Why Bill Gates learned to cook a barbecue chicken

Inside Washington State’s Mount Vernon High School, one of the most popular lessons being taught is about how to cook a whole barbecue chicken. That happens in Robert Hand’s Beginning Foods class, a modern version of home economics. There, Hand helps kids learn to prepare foods that are delicious—but also nutritious and cost-effective.

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In a school where 60% of the students come from low-income families, Hand’s practical lessons fold math and science lessons into ways that make sure fewer families go hungry or have to resort to fast food. That dovetails with plenty of research that shows how kids who don’t struggle with food insecurity have better attendance and performance at school. At the same time, kids who don’t learn to eat right are in danger of becoming obese.

For that kind of innovative thinking, Hand was named Washington State’s 2019 Teacher of the Year. The honorific came with an added bonus: Seattle resident Bill Gates decided to amplify his message by asking Hand to join him in a cooking demo. In a video posted to the Gates Notes blog, Gates himself is the eager pupil. “I have to admit you’re got a very entry-level student,” he tells Hand before working hard to make the menu item.

One of Hand’s broader goals is to build student self-esteem by empowering kids with solid life skills, something Hand emphasizes in other classes as well, where he teaches how to go on a job interview (complete with mock interviews) or how to balance your budget and save for the future (because he assumes his kids will get the job).

Hand also works to help the profession by running a teacher prep program for students interested in becoming teachers someday. “I ask myself every day is what I’m doing today going to make students feel welcome and loved, because teaching is hard but growing up is harder,” he says in the video.

For his part, Gates dropped the video alongside his own philanthropic push to empower more teachers. Starting this morning and for today only, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is offering to match 50% of all contributions made to back-to-school projects on the classroom crowdfunding site DonorsChoose.org.

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About the author

Ben Paynter is a senior writer at Fast Company covering social impact, the future of philanthropy, and innovative food companies. His work has appeared in Wired, Bloomberg Businessweek, and the New York Times, among other places.

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