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Farm-to-table concept comes to Mattituck-Cutchogue classroom

“Living farm-to-table is important here. It’s what the North Fork is known for,” said Pat Arslanian, a middle school English teacher in the Mattituck-Cutchogue School District.

Ms. Arslanian is finding new ways to bring farm-fresh ingredients into the classroom — with help from Mattituck High School alumni and local residents.

Since September, about 100 students in four Home and Careers classes have listened as eight North Forkers, some who have come back to Long Island, shared the highs and lows of their careers. Students have been guided on how to make a caramel apple dessert, prepare organic eggplant parmigiana and, on Tuesday, bake fresh bread.

Ms. Arslanian, who also served as the district’s junior high school dean for 13 years, decided to take on the seventh-grade Home and Careers course this year because she wanted a heavier workload. But the New York State curriculum for the mandatory Home and Careers course is demanding, she said. 

“It’s extensive,” she said. “It covers finance, cooking, sewing, laundry — too many different things. Then I started to get a little overwhelmed.” For that reason, she needed to brainstorm ways to reinvent the course content while still meeting the state requirements.

Ms. Arslanian said she decided to bring in local chefs who create farm-to-table cuisine because it’s part of the culture on the East End. To fulfill the “careers” portion, she chose to invite local entrepreneurs to the classroom.

“North Fork careers is what I want to focus on,” she said. “What can you do when you grow up here?”

From there, she said, she reached out to a handful of former Mattituck students and local business owners, including MHS alumna Erica Guja from Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International Realty, alumna Gabriella Macari of Macari Vineyards and Jennilee Morris of North Fork Roasting Company. Retired Suffolk County police officer Edward McDonald, who has become an at-home baker, also paid the class a visit. By the end of the 10-week course, students will have heard from 17 classroom guests. 

“I ask them to share their journey with the class,” Ms. Arslanian said. “And every single one of them has come.”

Some of the locals, like Nick Krupski of Krupski Farms, agreed to visit because Ms. Arslanian started chatting about the course outside school.

“I ran into him in the parking lot at King Kullen,” she said. “I said, ‘I’m really sorry, Nick, but could you do me a favor?’ ”

Ms. Arslanian said nothing compares to the knowledge the local guests can offer her students. “When you bring in experts in their field, and they’re younger, and they’re telling you, ‘Don’t be afraid to fail,’ it actually resonates with students,” she said.

Ms. Arslanian said that while the course has been going smoothly, she’s struggled with the short class period.

“I wish they were just a little older. Sometimes I don’t know if they all understand,” she said. “The 41-minute class kills me.”

Even if students can’t fully grasp the information from visitors, Ms. Arslanian said, she’s learned a lot from the visiting alumni.

“It’s really been an extraordinary experience as far as that community-school connection,” she said.

Ms. Arslanian attributes her success in bringing in guest speakers in part to the tight-knit culture in the Mattituck-Cutchogue community.

“What I tell them is that I want students to know they can come home,” she said. “The guests want this community to continue to grow. They have all brought up the importance of networking, and of knowing your roots.”

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Photo caption: Pat Arslanian and baker Edward McDonald prep the classroom before the lesson Tuesday. (Kate Nalepinski photo)

Correction: A previous version of this article said Jennilee Morris was a Matittuck High School alum, and five North Forkers, not eight, have visited the class.