Editor’s note: This report was filed by volunteer reporter Tiffiny Jaber.
In the midst of the holiday season, Apple Corps’ message couldn’t be more meaningful: teaching children about healthy eating, exercise and growing food to perpetuate a positive community. Apple Corps members – national service volunteers placed at area elementary schools – use innovative teaching techniques to get the kids to engage in these topics.
Apple Corps teaches students in underserved communities how to eat healthier by showing them where fresh vegetables and fruit come from, and teaching them how to cook in delicious and nutritious ways. They get kids’ hands into the soil, teach them to value the seasons of the year, and empower them to grow food at home. Apple Corps creates hands-on experiences for kids via gardens, cooking in the classroom, and by taking kids to farms to see the land and the farmers who tend it.
I recently had a chance to catch up with three of the Apple Corps nutrition educators who shared some of their experiences with me. Brian Sindel and Lisa Woo divide their time between Sand Point Elementary in Northeast Seattle and Emerson Elementary in Rainier Beach, while Kelly Shilhanek works with Concord International School in South Park.
Spending four days of the week immersed at their assigned schools, Apple Corps members collaborate closely with class teachers. The curriculum is based on the Eat Better, Feel Better program, a school-based effort of Public Health-Seattle & King County that promotes positive change in how kids eat and their activity levels.
Lessons span a variety of topics over 12 weeks. For example, 5th grade classes focus on healthy eating around the world; 3rd grade covers plant parts; and younger grades integrate food with literacy. Brian said the focus is on a well-balanced diet. “We work from MyPlate, which replaced the USDA’s food pyramid, and we incorporate all five food groups,” he said.
The classrooms that Apple Corps members visit are treated to delicious homemade food. The members set up their mobile kitchen and provide a 45-minute cooking demonstration, which is as involved and interactive as possible for the students. Some of the food can be quite different and new to the children, so it’s not unusual for them to be apprehensive before taking the first bite. Lisa and her classes start off their snack by saying, “Bon appetit! We now may eat.” Then they each take their first “bravery bite” and talk about their likes and dislikes or show their varying approval with a thumbs up.
Last year Brian led a Garden Recess Club for teacher-selected 3rd graders who needed extra engagement. Club sessions focused on different gardening lessons. At the end of the year, Brian put the mini-lessons together into an hour-long final session that the students taught to their classes. Brian was amazed to see these students, who were usually so quiet and disengaged, have the opportunity to be the experts and leaders for the rest of their classrooms.
The elementary schools each have their own vegetable garden onsite. The children also take field trips to various farms. Lisa notes, “All of (children in) the school have an opportunity to engage with farming in some capacity. … Concord students go to the Giving Garden at Marra Farm, a production farm Solid Ground’s Lettuce Link runs to support area food banks.” Emerson Elementary visits the Rainier Beach Urban Farm & Wetlands. Kelly is looking forward to spring when three of the six grades she works with have the opportunity to experience basic garden education at Marra Farm rather than in the classroom.
Both Lisa Woo and Brian Sindel were awarded the title of Conservation Champions last year by the Seattle Public Schools. In addition, their respective schools received $400 to recognize their work. The money went toward greening the schools. Emerson Elementary plans to initiate a composting program with the awarded funds.
Not only are the children benefiting from the Apple Corps program, so are their parents and communities. The entire school community takes part in the Farmers Market nights Apple Corps organizes for the school families. The events are free, with all of the produce donated by PCC. Concord International Elementary holds a multi-cultural night where families bring prepared food and share an amazing feast. Marra Farm hosts a Community Kitchen where farm volunteers and sometimes students set up a primitive kitchen to prepare freshly harvested organic produce for families and volunteers.
Apple Corps members also rally the community together outside of their classrooms and teaching gardens. Third to 5th grade girls from Concord take part in a bi-yearly 5K run with the internationally-renowned “Girls on the Run” program.
This link to the “Plant Part” Potstickers activity page and recipe gives an idea of how the children are taught about plants with a delicious recipe.
You can support Apple Corps by donating through Solid Ground’s website and designating Apple Corps. If you have any questions about Apple Corps, or to see how you can get involved in this amazing program, please contact Apple Corps Supervisor Samantha Brumfield.