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There is a certain energy in schools where authentic learning and collaboration are happening, where students are engaged in learning about issues in their own backyard. This energy was buzzing at Exploris Elementary throughout the last twelve weeks as 88 fourth and fifth graders explored nutrition through the lens of civic engagement. During this issues-based learning unit, which Explores calls a learning expedition, students engaged in conversations around food access in the downtown Raleigh food desert where the school is located.

Surprised and called to action by what they were learning, our students became a cohesive group of problem solvers in order to make a difference.

Credit: Annah Riedel
Credit: Annah Riedel

To watch nine- and ten-year-olds think critically about the problems facing their community is inspiring. Students started by looking at food access around the world and compared the food accessibility of different countries. Keeping in mind that people of many cultures, ethnicities, socio-economic, and geographical regions consume different food items. In many places food consumption is based on what can be grown in the immediate regions while other places import food from across the country and world.

After students learned about food accessibility around the world, students learned about nutrition and their bodies which included learning the parts of MyPlate and how to create their own healthy and balanced meals. They even analyzed their own lunches, thinking about how nutrition impacts overall health.

After learning about healthy foods, and the difference between surviving and thriving, student groups took to the streets to investigate food access. Moved by this experience, students identified fourteen local people and organizations working to support the community’s food needs with healthy, nourishing options.

The fourth and fifth graders researched and interviewed these “food heroes,” created presentations, designed a commitment to service, and presented their work to an audience of nearly 200 people, including many of the food heroes.

Throughout this expedition students learned how to garden and cultivate their own food; they wrote parodies and food spotlights, which parody the Exploris Ten Core Values in good spirit.

One of the fundamental aims of the Exploris approach to learning is to create a connection between the school and the local community. By engaging students in conversations with Raleigh’s local food heroes, this expedition allowed students to learn about and highlight the great work that is happening in the community around the school. It also allowed us to discover and celebrate some of the hidden heroes in our community. Please watch the video below created by the 4th- and 5th-grade team at Exploris Elementary to get a glimpse of the learning that occurred at Exploris Elementary over the last 12 weeks.  

A list of the Food Heroes and contributors that partnered with Exploris over the last 12 weeks:

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Click to enlarge (Credit: Sonja McKay)

  1. Backpack Buddies at Hunter Elementary
  2. Camden Learning Garden Inter-Faith Food Shuttle
  3. Community Food Lab
  4. Food Bank
  5. Grocer on Wheels
  6. Inter-Faith Food Shuttle (Warehouse)
  7. Maurice Small
  8. The Jamie Kirk Hahn Foundation
  9. Plant-A-Row for the Hungry at Logan’s
  10. The Produce Box
  11. Raleigh City Farm
  12. Raleigh Rescue Mission
  13. Shepherd’s Table Food Kitchen
  14. WakeMed Farmers Market

Sonja McKay, Amanda Northrup, Annah Riedel, and Leah Ruto

Sonja McKay, Amanda Northrup, Annah Riedel, and Leah Ruto are teachers on the 4th/5th grade teaching team at The Exploris School. The Exploris School is a public charter K-8 learning community that engages students in a rigorous, relevant, relationship-based education. This is done through experiential, project-based learning that empowers students to build a connected, just and sustainable world.

(Pictured, left to right, are Sonja McKay, Leah Ruto, Amanda Northrup, and Annah Riedel)