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Students share lessons learned about access to healthy food

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Students preparing produce boxes for the food insecure. (Credit: Sarah Outen)

Over the last twelve weeks, 88 fourth and fifth graders of The Exploris School have been exploring nutrition through the lens of civic engagement. After learning about healthy foods, and the difference between surviving and thriving, they took to the streets. Inspired by this experience, they identified fourteen local people and organizations working to support the community’s food needs. 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.

As the fourth- and fifth-grade students at Exploris were completing their interviews of Food Heroes in the Raleigh area and finalizing their group culminating presentations we began to question what learning had taken place. Were the students able to walk away from this experience with what their teachers had desired? Was their awareness of North Carolina’s struggle for all people to have access to healthy food heightened? Were the students able to close this study with the knowledge that they could, truly, make a difference in the community around them? So, we asked them. Here is what we learned.

If you could tell only one thing to someone about this experience, what would you tell them and why?

“I would tell them so many people are food insecure and everybody should help to prevent that by donating to food programs,” Jenna, 4th grade.

“I would tell my family to be thankful because lots of people are wondering what their next meal is going to be,” Fletcher, 4th grade.

“If I could only tell someone one thing I would tell them that anyone of any age can help others,” Chayse, grade 5.

“If I could tell somebody one thing it is that this study makes you feel like you need to help,” Lucinda, 4th grade.

What is the most important thing you feel you have learned from this experience?

“I would tell them even if you have healthy food access it doesn’t mean other people have healthy food access. So you should do all you can to help the other people around that don’t have healthy food access,” Everett, 4th grade.

“My experience has changed me by visiting the supermarkets and my food hero. I know you can’t always buy what you need and that others are always trying to help those who are in need of help,” Calvin, 5th grade.

“The most important thing that I have learned is to feel lucky but to reach out to people in need,” Brenan, 4th grade.

How has this experience changed the way you view people’s needs in downtown Raleigh?

“I at first didn’t really notice how many people are in need in downtown Raleigh. All through this expedition I have really been surprised by how many people are in need in downtown. It has changed the way I see people in need by making me want to go and help them get easy access to good food,” Leia, 5th grade.

“That in my neighborhood there are probably people that are food insecure. I didn’t know that,” Dakoda, 5th grade.

“I have learned about troubles that lots of people have. I believe we can help. As Raleigh, we can do better. We can give to the hungry and provide services. We can educate people about needs and do better. I am changed,” Riley, 5th grade.

Food Hero Demetrius Hunter with Grocer on Wheels and Exploris students. (Credit: Sonja McKay)
Food Hero Demetrius Hunter with Grocer on Wheels and Exploris students. (Credit: Sonja McKay)

Bringing the students out into the community and having them engage with members of organizations, shop owners, and seeing individuals who needed assistance has changed their perspectives. Many students were simply not aware that citizens right outside their school building were in need of help to meet some of their most basic needs. These students are our future; they are a catalyst for change. A few projects our fourth- and fifth-grade students look forward to implementing this school year include: a food drive for the Food Bank, volunteering at various organizations they have created a relationship with, a penny collection to purchase fresh produce for the food insecure, and harvesting crops from our school garden to donate to those in need. Sometimes adults must stand aside and allow the change to happen.  

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)