Last day of school. Time for a final salute to my daughter’s terrific first-grade teacher. And to all the other teachers who realize that what kids eat — and what they know about food — matters.
I’ve written about Ms. S before (most notably in this post) and how she just… gets it. Our school is progressive, interdisciplinary, experiential — all those buzzwords that hit the right notes. But it walks the talk. It really does. And Ms. S, especially, has let the kids take the lead, using the year’s sustainability theme to, among other things: start vermicomposting; create a schoolwide recycling program (including hilariously sweet PSAs); make green household cleaners for holiday gifts; team with local college students for an environmental science fair; and make and sell recycled-material hearts for a Valentine’s Day fundraiser to benefit Nature Abounds.
But it’s the last couple months, I think, that have been the most remarkable. It’s during this time that Ms. S has been leading a “Sustainable You” unit. OK, a lot of schools and a lot of teachers do healthy-eating units. But you know how that goes: Eat your vegetables. Don’t eat too many sweets. Drink your milk. Not every school food lesson is like that. But a lot of them are.
This one was different. The kids read books about sustainable food and food habits, including the amazing “Hungry Planet: What the World Eats,” which chronicles, in vivid photographs, a week’s worth of groceries for 30 families in 24 countries. They completed worksheets tied to the film “What’s on Your Plate?” that asked kids to “talk about what they eat, where it comes from and why that matters.” We discussed the importance of local agriculture, the differences between whole and processed foods, and why chemical ingredients are bad news.
Mind you, this wasn’t my doing. I helped. I gave Ms. S some ideas and lent her some books. But she started it and ran with it. And, most importantly, she owned it. This wasn’t a PC food unit. She didn’t shy from controversial topics. But she did it with grace and good humor, and no one felt offended or judged or put on the spot.
When the kids brought in their favorite foods, we read ingredients together and talked about marketing tricks and unpronounceable words. Later we heard from students who’d shopped with their families and chosen fresh fruit over syrupy fruit cups, or skipped items with food dye. When Ms. S launched The Great Cool Whip vs. Real Whipped Cream Experiment (inspired by this stunt), the kids found it equally gross that the cream was moldy and the Cool Whip was not.
Then there were the everyday things, like how Ms. S handled food differences and snacks and parties, things I talked about in this post and that we’re discussing again this week on Facebook. Just good stuff that made me grateful for a kindred spirit in the classroom.
The kids finished the unit with a walk to the farmers’ market and through the school garden for some local produce to bake and dehydrate for their Poet Tea, a sort of poetry slam for the grade-school set. And tonight at the school picnic the class will give Ms. S food-themed gifts to end the year: gift certificates for a local food co-op and two producer-only farmers’ markets, and a classroom copy of “Hungry Planet.” And memories books from the kids. Not food-themed. Just awesome.
Any teacher food stories of your own? Tales from this year? Hopes for next?
Happy summer, all.