An Andover businesswoman is helping to serve up nutrition lessons to students at a private school in Lawrence.

"After 15 years since my initial wish to 'do something'" about school lunches, I've realized a dream by creating a pilot series of cooking classes for the Esperanza Academy in Lawrence, the community in Massachusetts with the highest obesity or overweight public school population. I've had help from many generous and talented women in the North Shore," reported Merit Tukiainen, owner of the Andover shop Night & Day, one day after the first class on Feb. 8.

The program planning group consists of about a dozen professional women members of Great Women to Know, a organization of local women, many from Andover, "dedicated to harnessing the diverse talents and influence of their membership to benefit young women in need in their community and other women within the organization."

Tukiainen says that "Esperanza Cooks Recipes for Life" mission statement is to give "students at the Esperanza Academy in Lawrence, hands-on cooking and nutritional learning experiences which promote life-long skills for healthy living. The program benefits the students, their families, and their community."

Esperanza Academy, is a private, tuition-free middle school for low income girls in Lawrence.

Esperanza Cooks is a 10-week program designed for 6-8 students in the 8th grade to learn about cooking, nutrition, kitchen safety, food handling and more during a hands-on series of chef-instructed classes. The classes take place on Tuesdays, from 3:30 to 6 p.m. The final class, a family feast, will take place on April 12.

The pilot program is planned to evolve to a permanent, extra-curricular, endowed program for Esperanza Academy. The program responds to the extraordinary statistic about adolescent obesity, placing the Lawrence public school population at the highest rate 46.6 percent of adolescent overweight for obesity in the state of Massachusetts.

Plans are also being made to involve the Esperanza Academy students in working in the community gardens of Groundwork Lawrence, and to use the produce from the gardens in the fall program.

The program is possible with the volunteer contributions of many area women. The pilot program chef instructor is Denise Baron Herrera, vice president of food and beverage at Burtons Grill in North Andover.

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