A winner

Wilkes Central High School teacher Jennifer Estes, left, reacts on April 1 after learning from Michelle L. Grainger, right, executive director of the N.C. SweetPotato Commission, that she had won the commission’s #TeachSweet Contest.

A Wilkes Central High School teacher received $500 for herself and $500 for a shopping spree for her classrooms from the N.C. SweetPotato Commission by winning the commission’s inaugural #TeachSweet Contest.

Jennifer Estes entered the competition with her Foods I and Foods II classes at Wilkes Central. Estes has been a family and consumer sciences teacher for about 20 years, mostly at Wilkes Central. She was chosen the school’s “teacher of year” this school year.

Michelle L. Grainger, the commission’s executive director, came to Wilkes Central on April 1 to tell Estes that she won. (The commission, observing its 60th anniversary, promotes spelling its namesake vegetable as one rather than two words.)

Dr. Dion Stocks, Wilkes Central principal; Scott Waugh, an assistant principal at Wilkes Central; and Wayne Shepherd, director of career and technical education for the Wilkes schools, were also there to see Estes’ surprised reaction. She was in her classroom with students.

Entrants in the competition were required to use to use the commission’s Teach Sweet curriculum, with activities using sweet potatoes for all grade levels in math, science and other subjects.

Estes said she used activities that were relevant to her Foods I and Foods II classes. She has freshmen in Foods I and sophomores, juniors and seniors in Foods II.

Students in Foods II learned about the sweet potato “farm to fork” food system from a PowerPoint presentation provided by the commission. This included how sweet potatoes are planted, grown, harvested, stored, distributed and prepared for sale. Students prepared notes and graphics about this process.

Each Foods II student did a project on sweet potatoes, which included researching sweet potato growers in North Carolina online and learning about the steps of buying them.

Each student developed a recipe incorporating sweet potatoes, chose ingredients for it and prepared a dish using it, said Estes. These included sweet potato pancakes, two different roasted sweet potato recipes and two different sweet potato casserole recipes.

One student prepared a sweet potato bowl with rice, black beans, lime, cilantro and other ingredients.

Estes said this was done as a competition, with Wilkes Central staff picking the best dish based on taste. Photos of the dishes were put on Facebook to come up with a “people’s choice” award based on appearance.

Students in the Foods II class said they didn’t realize the sweet potatoes could be used in so many different ways.

Estes said students in Foods I, where the challenge was to create a healthy snack using sweet potatoes, students made sweet potato pancakes.

This began with Waugh coming to the class as a guest chef to teach students how to make sweet potato pancakes. Estes said Waugh is a pancake expert and showed students all the tricks of making them. “The next day the kids came in and made their own sweet potato pancakes,” she said.

Pancakes were cooked in a microwave and then pureed before being added to the pancake batter.

Estes said the exercise included discussion of sweet potatoes and how to wash and prepare fresh sweet potatoes. It also included practicing kitchen and food safety and setting a table for a meal.

Students also discussed and learned to identify the anatomical parts of a sweet potato plant and the difference between organic and conventional farming.

The competition required posting photos of students engaged in their activities on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter using the hashtag #TeachSweet and tagging the NC SweetPotato Commission (@ncsweetpotatoes).

The N.C. SweetPotato Commission, based in Benson, is a nonprofit corporation made up of over 400 sweet potato growers, along with packers, processors and business associates that support them.

The purpose of the commission is to increase sweet potato consumption through education, promotional activities, research and honorable horticultural practices among its producers.

Since 1971, North Carolina has been the number one sweet potato producing state in the nation. They’re grown in eastern North Carolina.

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