Friday, December 30, 2011

Untie the Knot! The Next Stage

Using the "Untie the Knot" activity I will have the chance to make a serious connection between the importance of communication (using your voice) and maximizing community resources. This activity offers the space for youth to practice thinking about the real application of successful communication and it's use for them in the real world. Pairing this with a community mapping activity using their bodies as props will give the resource context and possibly the opportunity to do some acting and role-playing (utilizing persuasion).

As I work to inspire people young and old to commit to my program for strategic persuasion and community resource use I need a unifying call. Now, I've taken note of many healthy food champions rhetoric and their use of guilt to mobilize but I would like to use a vision of "maximizing the good" instead. The health of the youngest is what needs protecting and any reasonable minded adult can relate to a theme of "doing the most with what you have". It is this process of "maximizing/doing the most" that requires organization and education, because truthfully we all advocate (push for a vision of our community) any time we interact with our neighborhoods, businesses, churches, schools, etc. Now, imagine formally forming a proper advocacy crew through teamwork, critical thinking, persuasion skills, mapping skills, and utilizing personal creative talent. Like a Y, from divergent directions this team would find unity in a common purpose. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

This Pitch Will Get Them...

"New leaders build bridges, establish free spaces where citizens can be supported as community change agents and problem solvers, and continuously foster the emergence of new leaders" (Yvonne Bynoe, Stand & Deliver)

What I am offering is an opportunity for young people to learn what it's like to champion health. Any young person that joins me will enjoy fun, food, and friends while learning key advocacy skills necessary for leadership. This will not be a journey down the road of oppression and despair but rather a chance to reevaluate our community and maximize the positive social determinants and add additional ones for future generations. I see opportunities for all the young people who join me to help build a world where every neighborhood has safe playgrounds, community garden space, corner stores supporting healthy diets, experiential culinary learning in schools, and more. Through proper advocacy education young people will learn how to demand more of themselves, their families, their communities, and beyond in a safe and respectful manner.

Before beginning this pitch, together with the young people, draw a quick map of the neighborhood. This map should include all "health sites" so any playgrounds, gardens, corner stores, bike lanes, etc.

Okay. So, we all know what we are up against: obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, etc. but what are we fighting for? What are you all fighting for? What would you like to see in your neighborhoods? I'll tell you what I'd like to see. In fact, I'd like to show you all what I'd like to see. I need everyone to, please, close their eyes.

Imagine we are standing outside of the school. Right out front in the street. Now I'm going to need you to really push your imagination because we are going to do some flying. Are you ready? Do some stretching in your mind. Bend your knees, stretch your arms, and stretch your back. Now crouch down and push up and start flying. 10 feet up, now 20 feet up, and finally 30 feet up. Just above your school. Now, at this height you can see for miles, right. But I want you to focus just on this neighborhood. So, someone without opening your eyes, tell me what you see directly in front of you. Can you see any where to exercise or purchase food?

Waiting for student to answer...

Now, we all need to turn our heads to the left. Let's make sure we are all on the same page. Raise your hand if you are still flying above the school? Raise your hand if you are looking to your left?

Someone please raise your hand and tell me what do you see to the left? Can you see any where to exercise or purchase food?

Continue until students have done an entire 360 degree turn in their heads and have recorded all health sites.

Now, we will be using our creativity to grade these sites. I need ___ volunteers (number dependent on number of sites recorded by students). Who would like to volunteer?

Take first volunteer and, based on the map, place them in a corresponding location in the room. Ask volunteer to freeze while we judge their health characteristics.

Now, using my food principles we are going to create a grade and dance/stance for our site volunteer. Okay so, The first food principle is: serve fresh foods. We want this done because the fresher the food, the better the nutrition. Does this food site serve fresh food? [Define fresh food]

Wait for students to answer...

So what grade would we give it? What kind of dance move can we create to show that this store has (a lot/some/no) fresh food.

Make clear to volunteer they will be using the dance moves to create a full dance.

The second food principle is: Don't sell more junk food than fresh food. So, does this site serve more fresh food or junk food?  

Wait for students to answer...

So what grade would we give it? What kind of dance move can we add to the dance to show that this store has (more/less) junk food.

Add dance move to volunteer's dance.

The third principle is: Water is free. Because water is so essential to good health it must be free (use water info sheet if need be). Is water served free at this store?

Wait for students to answer...

So what grade would we give it? What kind of dance move can we add to the dance to show that this store does/doesn't serve water for free?

Add dance move to volunteer's dance.

Overall we have three dance moves to make up the whole dance and we need to grade the store overall. What kind of grade ought we give this store based on our healthy store values?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Creative Documentation and Steps to an Advocacy Community

With the best of leaders,
When the work is done,
The project completed,
The people all say
'We did it ourselves'

With big plans for piloting advocacy programming in the late winter I have been working to recruit as many teachers as possible, find appropriate curriculum, and work on my youth recruitment pitch. The process has been difficult for sure, because with budget cuts comes a lack of funding for after-school programs.

What I need to make certain is that I take some time to purchase some device for recording my work with youth. This way I can document progress and illustrate the power of my work for anyone interested in seeing it. Much like the opening passage suggests, self-empowerment (especially for youth) can be really powerful. Being able to document and produce images verifying the empowerment process (Awareness-Connection-Activism) is critical to persuading funders to continue funding, and sustaining youth confidence.

Two other aspects of youth work I would like to explore are using media with young people and hands-on advocacy experience. Without these two, the advocacy community (so integral to sustaining the fun, friends, and experiential learning ingredients in the whole) will be lost. Thus, using media and approved hands-on work will be something I will need to seriously investigate. In fact, I will need to know those aspects so well that I can teach the skills to an eight year old. If I am not totally familiar with the power of social media and the methodology of experiential learning my program will lose it's foundation and it will become vulnerable to hijacking.

I see these steps as necessary to creating an advocacy community:

1. Introduce educator to youth
2. Introduce fun, food, and friends environment
3. Roll out Call to Arms
4. Educate
5. Use media to educate, organize and entertain
6. Hands-on experiential advocacy learning
7. Use community centers to teach community advocacy
8. Participants design and implement advocacy events
9. Distribute toolkits for beginner advocates and graduates of program
10. Call graduates back to teach

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Community in Advocacy

The importance of the team building effort cannot be underestimated. These young people must bond together so as to create an environment capable of fostering trust and honest communication. Without this the group will be concerned with just improving conditions in their personal lives. Instead they must be committed to working together to bring a communal vision of health to creation.

"That's supposed to make being black and poor all right. When Watts happened, all them white folks saying, "What they rioting for? Why, they got palm trees in that slum!"

This passage from Sam Greenlee's The Spook Who Sat By The Door points to a major misconception on my part when appealing to young people. My attempt at persuading them to commit to advocacy lacked the kind of community foundation needed to make leadership into a worthwhile endeavor. Young people should feel like, by doing "advocacy", they are engaging with their community in a positive and fun way. Thus, the commitments they made are not just being met but surpassed and the passion will only grow as they concern and interest in each other turns into action.

Youth Pitch beginning

This post is intended to explore the proper approach to potential youth advocates. In order to persuade young people to enroll in my program of teaching advocacy I must appeal to their hope for a healthier future. Using rhetoric such as: "We all know we are against the obesity and heart problems and diabetes hurting young people, but what are we for? What do we hope to create for ourselves and future kids?" This way I will identify the positive and negative logical reasons for enrolling in a leadership project. More, the question will lead to conversation about possible solutions and a larger philosophical discussion of responsiblity and community work.

What is the purpose of school? Why do you come to this place everyday?

I hope that when you think about that question you realize you come to school to learn how to make good decisions. Not just decisions, but good ones.

Now, why do you eat food? Do you eat food to fill your stomach? Do you eat food to stay healthy? Or do you eat food cause it just tastes soooo good? I hope when you think about this question your answer is something like a healthy combination of all options.

The statistics do not lie:
"Over the past three decades, childhood obesity rates in America have tripled, and today, nearly one in three children in America are overweight or obese. The numbers are even higher in African American and Hispanic communities, where nearly 40% of the children are overweight or obese. If we don't solve this problem, one third of all children born in 2000 or later will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lives. Many others will face chronic obesity-related health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and asthma." (

The question then becomes are we making good decisions with our food? In fact, the question is: are we making decisions that help or harm our health?

I want to take a minute to perform an experiment which will help us understand how our community helps us to be healthy. I want you all to close your eyes. I want you to imagine you are standing outside of your home. Are you there? Now, imagine you are walking to school. Slowly walk down the street and look at your neighborhood, look at where you live. Take your time. Look from side to side, what do you see? Corner stores? Gardens? Restaurants? Playgrounds? Please open your eyes.

The purpose of this experiment is to wrap our minds around our community and come to see whether it puts us in a position to help or harm our health. Is it easy to make good choices?

Now, please close your eyes once again. I want you to again imagine yourselves standing outside your home. This time as you walk to your school, you're going to notice some new places and things along the way.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Responsible for the Nation

Working to convince young people to translate their interest in leadership into advocacy will be a challenge, but a challenge I intend to live up to. Before they will show a passion for changing the health landscape in their communities they'll need a standard of judgment to assess the worthiness of their communities "health institutions" and health leaders (informal and formal). Thus, when I approach a group of young people I will need to be able to offer them a critical lens through which they can make those judgements. Grading their communities food, for example, should not be based on their opinions but instead on a factual criteria. For instance, a corner store with at least 65% of their store space devoted to junk food is considered a "junk store". Of course, as their critical thinking faculties mature, and they know what they are looking for, they can develop their own criteria based on that which they know of their communities' offerings. Much like a professor will curve a test, these young people can more effectively judge potential targets for advocacy.

This kind of thinking though will not begin until the youth sees a reason to care. They must see the connection between the poor health, the families suffering, the lack of control inside of communities, and the policies guiding food procurement and preparation. The individual must become responsible for the nation before the nation will become responsible for the individual.


As I move deeper into an unfamiliar social tradition: "dating". I feel less like myself. I know my intense political and educational mind resides below but nowadays it is buried beneath more and more nonsense. So, this entry is an attempt to address my insecurities and fears of this profound potential for inner change. I believe the fear stems from a belief that a change will inevitable make me less concerned with the work of the people and the cause of peace, and instead overly concerned with my "love interest" of that time. Rather than evade these romantic feelings due to their power to make me vulnerable, I need to engage with them and see how they can help my work with people. Experiment. Improvise.

Taking the time to appreciate how different and special this person is and how she does not threaten my person in the same way that anyone else can is critical to taking advantage of this change in my life. I will always have the same memories and I will always have the same reaction to potential work to be done (passion). At this point I need to focus on enjoying the moments when I think about her and how she can heighten my passion for life and equality. Do not grow rigid out of an over-dependence on a fear of vulnerability. Let vulnerability show me to the next phase in life even if that transition is painful.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Moving Forward

After my presentation for the group last week I have been contacted and given permission to begin planning for a possible "tracks-approved" piloting of advocacy programming. I foresee a period of time where attaining permission from the principal to operate on school grounds, and interest from teachers, students, and parents will require expert persuasive skill. For such persuasion to smoothly be implemented I'll need the following:
     A. Pitch for Youth: (possibly) "We all know what we are against, but what are we for? Are we for health?"
     B. Pitch for Principal: (possibly) "It takes a village and sometimes it takes weekends"
     C. Pitch for Parents: (possibly) Logic tells us that these young people need additional skills to compete in the educational fields of the future. But this program provides more than skills alone, it also provides an educational motivation not found inside the classroom. With real-world problems and opportunities to be real-world champions, your children will be in prime position to not just learn about their communities but to learn to love working in their communities.
     D. Tracks approved curriculum: content of lessons must be applicable to advocacy (education & awareness).

These kinds of outreach will see me touch lives in a whole new way. Whatever sincerity I have will need to be more pure now than ever. I cannot walk falsely into these halls and homes. I must look into eyes of young and old alike and tell them the inconvenient truth about the need for inconvenient heroes; inconvenient champions.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Clarifying the Specifics

After presenting the finished version of my project to a few select co-workers I realized I need to spend additional time clarifying the policy study and "Understanding the issue" portions of my presentation. Both critical to the program, I'll need a concise explanation of the integration of these subjects to the curriculum. It would help to imagine the young people I teach reacting to a lesson on food policy or thinking critically about who are the winners and losers in the issue.

Thursday, December 1, 2011


Introduction (10 minutes)
Body (25 minutes)
Q & A (20 minutes) Have prompting questions ready

(slide 1) Agenda
      You will walk out with...

(slide 2) Think Back...

(slide 3) Why a Youth Advocacy?
      New Life
      Socio-Ecological Model
      Formal youth advocacy training doesn't exist.

Handouts needed: Presentation (3 slides per page), 4 phases, Timeline

Evaluation = short term outcomes are accomplished by conclusion of program. Long term outcomes are skills and knowledge taken into far future.

Strategic Plan: Point to Goal areas instead of objectives (order by importance - 2 & 3 high, 1 & 4 low)
       Have one example of the potential relevance to HPC strategy

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Necessary Clarity

Monday's cooking club forced me to reflect on my technique for teaching advocacy. I noticed that while the young people were engaged they didn't have the proper "advocacy lens" to look through (they couldn't see the real failures of a system that facilitates one in every three children [31.7%] ages 2-19 being overweight or obese). Thus, the educator must impart to them the knowledge to "see" an issue, desire change, and strategize for it like an advocate.

Essentially I didn't introduce the students to the appalling nutrition statistics, I didn't ask them to define the issue (why do these statistics exist?), I didn't prompt a conversation about who is affected (who wins and who loses?), and we didn't ask ourselves about the main causes of the issue. Having heard their satisfaction with the status quo, their short-term understanding must be supplemented with some view the possible improvements that could be made with some passion, research, and strategy. 

Any strategy I foresee will be most immediately seen during the time to generate solutions to the issue. Through helpful team activities these young people can critically imagine a new landscape of food offerings. This imagining could then be the launching point for their seeing the issue anew. Solutions must be considered in the same breath as the problems.

Working with these young people to develop their lens, creating momentuum for their growing community, and imparting skills (i.e. community mapping, critical questioning) will put them in a strong position to grow as advocates and healthy kids.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Before the Beginning Begins

I learned a valuable lesson today. When teaching advocacy the audience you are trying to reach must have enough perspective to see their reality against a more idealized version. This critical perspective is necessary for any appropriate judgment of their food system landscape and deeming it worthy of them or not. Thus, an activity to illustrate how great our health can be and a formal process of imagining a better food system. Without this context, they will not understand what systems could exist, and which systems that do exist are failing them. More, they really need to define not only the problem but what failure and success really are.

Advocacy requires a critical criteria in order to mobilize any leadership inertia into real effective action. The strategic planning process must begin with a strong assertion of intention (this requires clarity). The strategic planning process is key to the development of an advocate. Their thinking must be at once sincere and innocent, while simultaneously strategic. 

Connecting the policy to the community opinion and their personal experiences will open their minds to potential actions that could potentially change their lives and their communities' life.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Advocacy Presentation Rough

We must put young people into a position to learn the many varied skills of advocacy in theory, action, and as a group. Teaching advocacy with the three pillars of Theory, Action, and Community, any group of committed young people will attain the confidence and intelligence to advocate on behalf of themselves and their loved ones.

The story of the birth of this program is more about me than about any one group of students. It's a story about seeing the full picture rather than a small fragment.

Driving to Munoz-Marin, my North Philadelphia school site, I felt excited like I often do when preparing to teach a cooking club lesson. I had already completed two cooking club series and felt comfortable teaching, cooking, and supervising simultaneously. Due to the hectic schedule of the co-sponsoring teacher, often times I had to do all three with minimal assistance from him. Fortunately for me and the cooking club participants on this day, Mr. Henderson had enough free time to commit to assisting our cooking endeavors. Now, what you have to understand is that Mr. Henderson is a former chef, so his experience puts my very limited work in the kitchen to shame. What you also must know is that earlier in the day I had asked and received the permission of the kitchen manager to use the full-service kitchen as a classroom for the cooking club. So, you have to imagine me with all my cooking equipment, the chef turned teacher, a full-service kitchen, and 12 students excitedly preparing to begin our session. When Mr. Henderson asks, “Why don't we just use their stove to cook rather than your electric skillet?” Now, ordinarily I am incredibly cautious when it comes to young people around large cooking equipment, but he was a trained chef and these young people were seventh graders so I knew the benefits outweighed the risks. Well, Mr. Henderson begins working the tabletop grill and the smells of the onions and peppers and mushrooms start swirling through the kitchen, and within minutes the kitchen is alive with movement. Young people preparing more mushrooms, chopping additional onions, and opening more bags of low-fat cheese. Soon enough, many of the young people are handling cookware and moving food up and down the grill.
The students were thrilled to have the chance to cook in such a professional looking environment, Mr. Henderson was excited to have the chance to work with his students casually, and I was overjoyed that the cooking club had taken on such a practical and dynamic form. These young people were working with fresh food, making a vegetarian dish, and relating stories of past cooking experiences, smiling the whole way through. It was then that Mr. Henderson changed that positive attitude for the rest of the session with one statement. It was like we had all been living in this fantastic kitchen with it's pristine equipment and had forgotten about the world outside the kitchen. He told us all then that the reason the equipment was pristine was indicative of the larger problem. It seemed to Mr. Henderson that the equipment we had been using and much of the other equipment throughout the kitchen was telling him a different story. “This equipment has never been used”. The students and I looked bewildered. Then he said, “If you look at the grill and how clean it is, any commercially operated grill would have marks of all kinds lining the surface, and this has none. I mean it's spotless.”

I was speechless. The students were not. They began firing off questions after question and demand after demand trying to understand why they couldn't enjoy the caliber of food we had just produced in less than half an hour. Turns out, the full-service kitchen had been reduced to a satellite kitchen not long after being installed. The fridge was packed to the brim with frozen entrees and the ovens were colored dark from use.

The dots had been connected for me. I saw then not just the value of the cooking club, but the value of something else: the value of exposing the policies structuring the lives of these young people through hands-on investigation and action. If we can couple this kind of learning environment with an advocacy curriculum, those very same young people could have done the appropriate research and strategic planning necessary to change those structures to allow for the healthier tomorrow they all deserve.

Young people must be given the information necessary for them to see the larger picture. It's not enough to be able to cook well on a tabletop grill, you must be sure that every child will be eating nutritious food from those same grills tomorrow and beyond. Such a vision requires a new kind of demand; a new kind of advocacy.

“When the teacher is ready, the students will appear”.

You ask any class of students “who wants to be a leader?” And you will see 99 percent of the class with their hands up. They will be stretching and straining their arms to get the attention of the teacher. I see this kind of hunger for power everyday. The students are ready for the challenge of leadership. The question now is, are we ready to teach? This program will see students taught persuasion, political education (very basic), strategic planning, coalition building, community research, and teamwork. This recipe for advocacy will lead to youth advocates capable of designing and implementing an advocacy event in their locality mobilizing their community around health. They will see first-hand the potential impact their ideas and their actions can have to effectively shape their world for a healthier tomorrow. I can attest to the power of this kind of empowerment to convince young people to continue to stay informed, and courageously stand up for what they believe is right for their generation and the generation of tomorrow.

The skills we will impart to these young people through this program will make them capable of envisioning a world we cannot even dream of. And these dreams will not be deferred. I will aid them in connecting the dots between policy, community, and nutrition. For each of them their connections will be different. Their unique visions will give them the strength, the resolve, to sustain.

A Healthier Future will give young people the opportunity to read deeply into their advocacy talents and see for themselves their evolution as an advocate: a thinker and actor.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Lift the Load of Poverty

Young people have the right to accurate and complete information and access to services, and to a voice in decisions that affect their health and lives, as well as the future of their communities. In fact, adults have the responsibility to show young people how to participate and lead the way to the development of action and policy that affects their lives. The only way to create real humanizing work for young people is to work in partnership with them to sincerely express their concerns and take actin to hold the old, established, rules to account for the modern times. The load of poverty is made heavier by the silence institutionalized and delivered through city hall. You may not be mayor of the poor, but no one else needs your ear more. Money had robbed the young blind and left them to fend for themselves. And they will... Traditionally we think of students waiting for teachers, such like: "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear". But the students have been waiting too long. Stilled in the flames of impotent voice and burned by the fires of poverty, perhaps now when the teachers are ready, the students will appear. They will appear with whole bodies ready to think, negotiate, and act. They will be ready to listen and debate, no more violent eruptions from the ghettos despite their seeming inevitability because the young will be prepared/trained to produced meaningful results rather than passing on the flames to the next house or the next body on the street. How do we train the young to lift the load of the future? Is it just through public speaking, community research, recruitment, persuasion, mapping, and strategizing? Where does the compassion and love and fun fall? Is the load too heavy for all that? The students may be ready to lift but are the teachers? Those young deserve the chance to try to lift that load and we teachers deserve the chance to help; to redeem ourselves. The load of the future will not be lessened to ease the burden. The young must see the problems we have left behind for them for what they truly are. The risk of overwhelming their young imaginations is outweighed by the potential of their working as a team to grow larger and more powerful than the problem we know. It is the responsibility of the teachers, the trainers, the authorities to forge new relationships with the young and expand the boundaries of what's acceptable for kids to do and say. These relationships and these unbowed children will be the making of a future so bright and dynamic that forecasters will scramble to delay our work. The Work: A. Teambuilding: Each youth will need the support of their cohort. Not unlike a sport's team, the performance will occur in the mind and on the field of action. The interactions between community and advocate will wear on them; their character will be tested and they'll need courageous peers to stand with. B. Persuasion: Each youth will understand the basics of persuasion, in particular the three modes of persuasion (logos, ethos, pathos). C. Strategizing: Each youth will know exactly how to plan an effective advocacy action. D. Community Research: Each youth will have the opportunity to collect data within the community they are advocate regarding the issue. E. Political Education: Each youth will know specific policies governing their "food system reality". F. Recruitment: Each youth will practice building coalitions The different aspects of work set out here comprise that long journey to find the strength to lift a load you never thought you could. It's not until you bend down and reach for the do you see the many other hands surrounding that same load. You lift your eyes from the boulder and seemingly from nowhere have come the faces of others working to lift. This boulder will never lift itself, like Atlas we can never shrug. Fortunately for us, that lifting is the kind of humanizing work we need to feel more like a community and more like real humans who want to live as a family.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Fall is Coming

As the fall approaches I must be sure of what exactly I'll need to do to implement the youth advocacy programming with or without my company's help. Assuming that no funding will come around in time, I'll need to begin a cooking club as soon as permission is granted. With the cooking club, I will plan to arrange with the Home-to-school association a "catered meeting" featuring student cooks. This opportunity to perform for an audience, and potentially parents, will give me the chance to introduce parents to the idea of extended cooking lessons that will feature more cooking skill building, food safety, nutrition education, and leadership skill building. I'll need a time, a place, and additional information on the proposed program with contact information.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Individual versus Collective

The format of our nutrition education is lacking to the point where we cannot address the issues of collectivity and nutrition. Our students leave the classroom and resume their post-individual lives. We lecture and deliver information on nutrition at an individual level and never on the collective level. You might wonder how do we deal with nutrition on a collective level? First of all, the school food program is a result of collective action. Secondly, socially we eat as a social function often. Thirdly, many of our eating habits are results of cultural inputs from friends, parents, and other meaningful community members. Therefore, us not interacting with this nutritional infrastructure of connectivity and communication puts our students at a disadvantage. They interact with this infrastructure everyday and yet we never talk about it.

The hybrid nutrition educator program designed to develop youth advocates directly intercedes in this miseducation process. Whereas, young people would be "learning" an implied "nutrition philosophy" socially when they visit fast food restaurants or corner stores, but with this program will provide the social context for a proper education and the development of a more well-rounded "nutrition philosophy".

It's the combination of the individual and collective education that produces the kind of inputs to create a well-rounded educational experience.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Future Conversations with Principals

I anticipate talking with principals about possibilities for advanced nutrition programming in the near future. I will need to be brief with explanations and requests. This is how I see any monologue going at this point.


I am working to begin arranging for a youth health advocacy program in your school's community. This program will expand on traditional nutrition education, cooking, and food safety to incorporate more critical thinking and leadership development. Specifically I will be guiding youth through a seven class series designed to introduce them to a critical look at their community's food system and built environment. As their understanding grows so too will their confidence to lead. By the conclusion of this program, they will have implemented a community action and will commit to lead for positive change in their communities into the future.

The results will see a community more interested in supporting and working with key decision makers to arrive at a mutually beneficial situation. Needless to say, these youth and community members will be critical allies for you and anyone else advocating for the future of health in our communities and nation.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Leadership Lessons

Leadership. Leadership. Leadership. We must develop our young people into youth leaders demanding healthy communities to grow up in. Then we shall see young people who can think and act critically to nourish their bodies and minds. Educating cohorts of youth leaders, communities will see a new style of educating. Critical education paired with community action will ensure a relevancy students will respect and respond to as nutrition materials are learned and applied. It is the application of nutrition knowledge that must be emphasized and the leadership required to encourage others to use their resources to better their own health and the health of their community. A well organized and motivated community will use the nutrition education to it's maximum potential.

The issue with our traditional nutrition education is that once the students leave the classroom the picture we paint has a very small chance of impacting their future health choices. This is because our illustration, our work, does not take leadership into account. Not unless we put young people in a position to see the food system and their built environment for themselves, and consider creating an alternative, will we find young people ready to advocate and take seriously the challenge that lies ahead.

We ought not kid ourselves in thinking that these obstacles to health will be solved by those already in power. In fact, a top-down approach will face a great deal of resistance from those young people who already feel disenfranchised and want nothing more than a chance to speak for themselves. The issue of our national health crisis could see these young people as passionate actors rather than disinterested reactors if we can educate them as youth health advocates standing up and demanding a healthy future for their communities.

In order to prepare these future leaders, I will conduct lessons on nutrition, cooking skills, food safety skills, and community health systems (food systems and built environment) so that when they plan an appropriate action to educate and mobilize their community, they will factor as much community data in as possible. With research, passion, and food on their side these young people will be poised to make a real positive impact in their communities.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Notes from a Meeting

Evaluation - How do I envision evaluating?
Objectives follow evaluation goals

Ultimate Goals - End of 4 weeks, what should participants be able to
Youth would be able to cook
Parents would be able to advocate

Ultimate Goal: Youth Advocates; How to acheive? Put into schedule

S.M.A.R.T Objectives

Diagram demonstrating focus of program
What each participant will be able to do; how the program will proceed; different influences within the program.


Need to do:
1. Target age -- Why this age -- justify
2. Overall Goal -- clear focus
A. SMART Objectives
B. Evaluation - kids walking out with what?
3. Plug/fit goals into schedule
4. Diagram creation

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Project Description and Statement of Need

Need of the community- Staying in the loop around health and nutrition is difficult as it attracts more and more national attention. Programs rise and fall. Money appears and disappears. All the while the community suffers from misinformation and disengagement. The silence stops here. Families need to get engaged in pushing the community to it's feet. It begins with the children as their energy and desire for change is met in the kitchen with nutritious foods and hands-on learning. It ends with the parents as they scaffold their child's development as a chef-in-the-making and a leader in the neighborhood. Access will be given to reliable health-promoting resources, and time will be made for analysis of socio-cultural influences on family and community health practices.

Convening youth and parents and giving voice to their plans to perform health-enhancing practices is the best strategy at achieving lasting change on the ground in these communities.

A. youth will be able to develop wellness (nutrition & physical activity) goals to adopt, maintain, or improve their personal health practices.
B. Implement strategies to overcome barriers to action.

1. Convene youth weekly for cooking class.
2. Provide reliable nutrition, food safety, and cooking information.
3. Conduct appropriate cooking lesson.
4. Convene parents and youth for discussion on community needs and resources.
5. Stage one community event designed to mobilize support in the community.

In order to achieve objectives:
I. Youth will select foods for healthful eating as they choose dishes to be prepared the following week from health-oriented cook books .
II. Youth will prepare foods in healthful ways every cooking club session.
III. Families will enjoy foods prepared.
IV. Discussions will be facilitated in order to arrive at consensus on strategies to overcome barriers to action within the community. By determining the needs and resources of the community, the design of the community health event, intending to educate and empower, will be made more effective.
V. Youth will design community health action plans and implement with the help of parents and coordinator.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Focus on Families

The Focus on Families cannot fail to appeal to parents. The appeal will take the form of exposures to both healthy, delicious, recipes and their children as reliable young chefs-in-the-making. Thus, the program must proceed as follows:

Implement cooking clubs @ school sites culminating in a student-catered home-to-school meeting. Conclude that home-to-school meeting with an invitation to participate in weekend cooking classes for the whole family. These family cooking sessions will teach basic food safety knowledge, basic cooking skills, and quick, safe, healthy dishes for kids (for all those guardians wary of kids in the kitchen).

Once this process has been implemented the entire family will be engaged through their own creative desires to work with food. Engagement and creativity are the keys to successful health outcomes and pulling the whole family into the loop will ensure a more contagious, well-rounded, and powerful environment. If these young people can have the backing of their parents, then real changes will begin to take hold.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Not Enough Time? Get Creative

Motivations to improve the diets of our families must not linger in any form of guilt or embarrassment. Instead the conversation must be empowering and positive as changes are sought to not just change our understanding of nutrition but also of preparing nutritious meals. If adults don't have as much time to prepare meals, enlist the young people to help and make the process something creative and fun for both parties. Encourage the creative energies of all parties to meet at the table and create meals that reflect not just their nutrition needs but their worldly passions as well. For instance, if you are cooking a dinner for the whole family explain to the young person (enlistee) our need for some medium to inform the rest of the family to the nutrition benefits of our meal, then suggest that the young one illustrate a comic detailing the preparation of the meal along with some nutrition information.

Working as a group and having fun must be two of the cornerstones you lean on during this long and tenacious effort to empower ourselves and our future generations of eaters and producers.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

By the Young, For the Young

Students need the opportunity to lead themselves through our convoluted world of public health. As a guide I will offer a cooking club experience where they will hone their healthy cooking skills, explore food system research (nutrition), and apply both to their communities in an effort to better themselves and their families. This hands-on community organizing resource will help to mobilize support for these young activists and reinforce key nutrition/health goals. Students will take ownership, challenge their friends and families to live well, and have fun doing it.

This program aims to convene the in-school education effort with the community education efforts. The young people are the perfect focus point. Directing additional resources to them for the purpose of organizing their communities around their nutrition/health related passions will accomplish more than you or I can imagine. The future is in the hands of the youth, it's about time they got their hands dirty.

Specifically, I would like to offer cooking/community organizing series' with the stated purpose of putting students in the driver's seat for their communities. Through weekly meetings preparing unique nutritious dishes and conversations about current health issues specific to their area, these young people will think critically and creatively about what they can do to make an impact. Strategies will be outlined and plans of actions will be implemented by and for the young people.

The By & For programming will have the effect of bringing nutrition home to these young people. We must look at the child as a part of a larger network influencing their health. We can expect no less of our children as they take their place as the future leaders of our schools, communities, and more.

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Concept: More than Measurable

I suppose I've been working to create a framework, numerous partnerships, logistical know-how, and appropriate expectations since I began working here. I will always thoroughly enjoy the classroom and implementing classroom activities but I believe in order to provide the kind of programming necessary to change the food environment that frustrates so many of us, we must challenge young people to become active participants rather than passive participants. I once believed students and I could so this work from the classroom and effect change, but now I see the work must be done outside in the real-world where the full context of what these young people are doing can be appreciated.

As a nutrition educator now, I walk into classrooms and pontificate about healthy diets and the students' eyes glaze over. But if you want to see young people ready and willing to work on their Nutrition and the health of their community challenge them to walk rather than to talk. In the numerous cases where I implemented cafeteria tastings, cooking clubs, or some other opportunities for young people to act as leaders, they responded with passion and enthusiasm. To that point they were no longer passive but active with their own education.

Agreements must be cultivated between traditional and nontraditional partners so that our young people can have the power their agency requires. They have the desire, they just need to be met with opportunities to practice cooking nutritious dishes and reaching out into the community to advocate for their own health and the health of their families and friends. Once they have this opportunity to be creative and fight for their right to good food, the effects will be more than measurable.

Monday, May 23, 2011

We Haven't Gone Far Enough

With an upcoming cafeteria tasting at a Northeast Philadelphia school, I was and still am excited to challenge young people to step up and continue the effort of fighting for their health. This fight doesn't end at the end of the school year, nor does it end with a graduation from any 4 year college to head start program. No, this fight is an everyday struggle to do the hard work of preparing healthy food because it's not just right but an opportunity to be creative and have fun. And before anyone tells me young people (or anyone for that matter) don't like to do hard work, if I've learned anything during this time of cooking clubs and attempted youth leadership development, it's that their is a real hunger amongst youth for opportunities to come together and feed not just their bodies but their minds and creative facilities. These young people need the opportunity to lead their communities to a place of stability and health. The question of: how ought we lead our communities? must be posed to these young leaders. Then, when they know their decisions will make a difference, the leadership development will launch.

From this kind of work in youth organizing around food and nutrition, that gritty question of "how" translates to real tactics they feel comfortable using. And never lost in the evolving movement toward action (because even doing nothing is an action of sorts, especially when you know the facts of the circumstance) the theme of entitlement comes in: what kinds of foods are these young people entitled to have.

One way or the other young people and their communities will have to take a stand on what children deserve.

Invite the "Other"
There are many sides to this food system that serve our children everyday. Other players with time and energy invested are the kitchen managers and staff working the assembly line end day in and day out. And what I would like to see are many more bridges being built to establish connections between young people and the staff tasked with serving them. Therefore, those of us in the 'alternative food system' need to invite the kitchen managers to the table to talk with the students. Perhaps after those traditional food system attendants introduce themselves and talk about why they work to feed growing children everyday we will see common ground and new and powerful alliances. Maybe then we, in the alternative, will be invited to look behind the scenes of the established kitchen.

The basic truth is that young people need more information about the system guiding their lives without they're knowing as we speak. The best way to do that is to work our way up the established food system chain and introduce young people to the adults responsible for making the decisions that affect their lives everyday.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Cafeteria Tasting Proposal

Proposal: Opportunity to conduct a cafeteria tasting with the 5th grade cooking club on June 6th during the 2nd of the four lunch periods. The preparation time lasts 30-35 minutes including: set up, preparing food (no heat), and clean up.

Logistics: 5th grade class will come down to lunch room at the beginning of the first lunch period to set up the preparation area (we will require only one table for preparing the tasting). Shortly after setting up the area, the students involved in the cooking club will prepare a nutritious dish capable of being served to the population of students in the cafeteria (dish will require no heat).

Once the dish is finished, the students will proceed to portion them into small servings. Once the second lunch period begins with the 1st graders taking their seats, the cooking club participants will serve each student in the cafeteria a small portion of the healthy dish to try. I will then instruct all of the students to return to their classes.

This kind of event will serve to expose students to a new healthy food, model healthy eating, put the cooking club participants into a position of leadership, and give those same students an opportunity to practice their cooking skills.

I've already asked for permission from the kitchen manager and was given the green light to confer with you.

Friday, May 6, 2011

A Worthwhile Future

When I consider future work options I conclude that my current area might be just where I need to be. Nutrition has a future of more and more importance to Public Health leaders, Employers, and citizens, as the American diet of processed food and the American lifestyle of sedentary living both come to be embraced around the world. Thus, nutrition will be relevant as a curriculum for a long time. Now, what I must plan is my role in that growing world of Nutrition Education. Thusfar, I have been putting a great deal of emphasis on leadership and getting as many students as possible into those position thereby "empowering" them. Unfortunately, the great interest of those potential students and my desire to empower as many students as possible has led to an exposure to a breadth of cooking techniques and nutrition information, but not a depth of skill, focus, and motivation.

With that said, for next year I must make certain of four things I think are integral to the development of these young nutrition leaders: (1) I limit the leadership positions (in whatever capacity I create) so that I can balance the group's intimacy with the information and their opportunities to work with the food. (2) I, myself, attain as much cooking skill, through trainings and my own experimentation, as possible. Obviously the more I know, the more I can share with the students. (3) I must make certain these programs in leadership culminate in a performance-based test like a parent workshop "catered" by the students involved in the cooking club. (4) I must contextualize the lessons within a framework of leadership (we all know why we should be leaders in this field, but how can we apply the lessons we learn to help others?) and creativity/fun. This can manifest as cafeteria tastings with original recipes designed/chosen by the students.

There exists an opportunity to challenge young people to take their health back for themselves, but the challenge must be palatable. I believe this attempt to empower is the best choice we have.

My work empowers me too. When I'm working with young people I feel the greatest challenge is to give them the chance to think critically and act critically. That same opportunity was given to me and it changed my life. Passing that on makes the entire experience worth the work.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

A New Imposition

In the past few weeks I have come to the realization that my new supervisor will be actively reducing the influence nutrition educators have over their lesson formats and implementation. For this reason I have come to the decision to equip myself with as strong an argument for personal creative control over activity design and implementation. This new interest in understanding the informational content of USDA approved information and Penn State approved curriculum is necessitated because of the threat to my non-approved curriculum and activities. Their exists a growing conflict between my supervisor's educational theory (banking of approved content into the minds of students) and my educational theory. It is clear that my theory will not prove superior without a proper argument to be brought into conflict with my supervisor's.

These two points captures the implications of the food environment as it exists today and our role (as nutrition educators) in it:

It occurs to me that if we as educators are solely concerned with the memorization of certain facts and data points then why not just rely solely on the empowerment packets? Would this not do just as much good as educators riddling off approved nutrition facts?

How do we educate our children to take their place in the food environment of the 21st century? Given that we cannot change the strongest influences to their diets and health in the classrooms using USDA approved facts.

Can we connect nutrition to what students believe to be important about themselves? And if so, ought we focus on the connection as much or more than the USDA data points?

Finally, why do students care about our USDA data?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Close Look At Progress

The five sites I work with have improved in terms of interest in nutrition to a massive degree. Evidenced by the additional programs I have been able to implement, I see only more potential for efficient delivery of leadership services. An appraisal of each might help to clarify the direction sought by each:

MO: Just having started with this site a month ago I haven't yet been able to challenge the young people to take up leadership positions in a meaningful way, however the lessons I have implemented have been extremely successful as student engagement was close to 85% if I had to guess. This site has the potential for a single session cooking class by the end of this year with proper planning.

LMM: The complexities of this site are too many to comprehend. I have been able to interest many students from 4th-8th grade and have seen great potential during the bi-monthly cooking clubs, but the interest is sporadic. Of course, the regular necessary classroom lessons have proceeded well with students and teachers investing in the extraordinary lessons I provide through the critical and imaginative classroom activities. Although, I believe the correct gauge for student interest in nutrition is the cooking club and unfortunately that engagement has waned since the onset of the series. The remedy is switching to a weekly schedule of seeing the cooking club instead of the bi monthly (every other week) implementation. Also, recruitment must focus on the natural student leaders. In order to pinpoint those young people capable of rallying others, I must conduct some in class cooking demonstrations where I can seize on their urge to eat good food, the smells, and the suggestion of more leadership opportunities.
The teacher assisting me in implementing the cooking club seems very interested in enhancing the experience by providing for a second series of cooking clubs and perhaps a parent workshop focusing on nutrition and cooking healthy, affordable meals. I'll need to be sure to provide whatever resources he wants and facilitate the progress of this idea and urge for a parent investment in the nutrition fight.

CR: The most dynamic site I have, offers students who are interested and motivated to push the potentials for nutrition. Every lesson I implement has more than the typical enthusiasm shown, but also a level of thought that excites me. I can implement an activity and leave the room feeling like the students have more tools to evaluate not just nutrition claims but navigate the world of valued creativity.
I have implemented a cooking club series here too and the results have been drastic as students have taken a real interest in learning the basics of cooking and taking leadership roles in the nutrition of their community. Just this past week I asked students if they would like to conduct a second event of nutrition leadership (my wording not their's) for their peers and they were more than excited. They suggested two possible events to implement: (1) a healthy bake sale, and (2) a cafeteria tasting. Either way I'll have the opportunity to put them into more of a leadership role and really show them the potential impact they can make on others.

NL: A coworker recently asked me what it was like at this facility and I summed up my evaluation of the culture there in one word: confusion. Any time I travel to this site the staff seemed frazzled and the students do not demonstrate any kind of regard for their education. Now, granted they are in this facility because of behavioral issues in past schooling, but if now is not the time for a structured and engaging curriculum and respectful relationships to rehabilitate these students, I don't know when is. The level of frustration I feel on going to this site and interacting with the students is undescribable. These young men have the capacity for valuable creative thought and leadership if only they were put into a position to exhibit it. Staff should be evaluating what student interest lies in and bringing in programs to push and develop those interests into passions and possible career paths. Thereby management opens avenues for discipline as students not complying will not be rewarded with those interesting programs. Instead what I see are adults trying their hardest to hold a sinking ship together for one more day. Unfortunately, the days are numbered and the students are counting them down.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Success Story

This entry corresponds with a staff meeting held here. We were asked to write out a success story we had been involved with in order to better communicate our hopes for the work we do:

At one point during the full staff meeting on Friday Vanessa emphasized our roles as advocates for young people and the corresponding responsibilities to point out health issues to other leaders in the schools. What she didn’t either mention or understand is the kind of critical tension that develops when a nutrition educator (seen as idealist as opposed to realist) begins a conversation with school staff about better nutrition (no matter how polite or diplomatic the conversation is). With this in mind, I entered New Life Youth and Family services last week looking to advocate in the right way.

Knowing the upcoming nutrition theme to be vegetables, and knowing the young men’s aversion to vegetables in general, I decided to use Lynne’s Swiss chard recipe and attempt to shock them with the odd food. As soon as I put the electric skillet on and pulled the garlic from my bag their eyes got big. “I love garlic,” I heard one young person say. A sincere moment only food can pull from these kids. They began slicing (carefully and with proper food safety instruction, of course) and gathering the ingredients, learning as they went that mistakes would affect the food.

Smells rose from the skillet that surprised even me. After all I had never actually prepared this dish with anyone else. The room filled with the hiss of the skillet as the onions cooked and the chard wilted and slightly browned. One young person who had been cursing me and the whole venture stopped talking and seemed regretful (he probably wanted to be involved now that he smelled the food.).

The food looked and tasted great. The teacher tried it and loved it. The students loved it. I supervised two more groups of young people to make the same dish. They all loved it. The kitchen manager even came out from her post in the very back of the kitchen to take a recipe after trying the dish. I felt like we could move on knowing these young people had tried something not only new but green and really liked it.

The lesson and momentum taken from this experience doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the food made (although it is a positive side effect). No, what I took from this experience was the opportunity for genuine advocacy and connection between staff, students, and myself. I now feel confident asking for more from the kitchen manager who was visibly impressed with the food and the presentation. And the students were actually listening to the nurse as she talked about a number of nutrition and health issues.

Advocacy is difficult when it involves navigating tense relationships. I find no more tense relationships than those I have with staff at schools or facilities where students complain about the food or health resources in general (at New Life students always complain about the food and their health). This day the tension subsided even for just a few hours and in that pocket of time, no one was advocating, but everyone was listening. Advocacy is no longer necessary when leaders actually listen.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Unearthing issues at Heart--a Classroom Compromise

The unreported fact of the classroom is that students are not more engaged in classroom work because they are not asked to come forth with relevant cultural background to the issue. In other words, they are not being asked about what matters to them. In reaction to such disregard, students will not proscribe to the same morals and ethical codes authorities do. This inevitably leads to conflict. This conflict always results in a renegade class and wasted time. With this sense of disenfranchisement, the personal content of students, often confused for idleness, is squandered. Inviting that youth perspective into the classroom through engaging activities can produce thoughtfulness and significant discussion that has the potential to change attitudes.

Looking realistically at classrooms, I understand students assets to be the recollections of food experiences, so our goals must be to put them in a position to narrate and direct stories based on food events from their life. In order to make this connection, I invite students to use their collective imagination and judge nutrition issues. In this way we can connect experiences relevant to students to our prescribed nutrition content. Thus the classroom compromise consists of intertwining the cultural background of students with the intended content of the teacher.

If educators do not negotiate with students in the classroom about nutrition content, then the activities will not work. They will not work precisely because they marginalize student experience thereby relegating them to voicelessness. Naturally then, they claim their voice by resisting and misbehaving. Instead coupling the two, the teacher will simultaneously become a student of the experience and engender far more fruitful conversations than by just dictating lesson material. The compromise leads to an inclusive classroom, greater knowledge retention, and a cultural relevance extending beyond the school and into the world students know very well. A world we cannot reach unless we invite it into the classroom.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Not a Soapbox, a Healthbox

Recently while watching a recorded talk about practical wisdom and it's potential to aid us in our repair of often broken institutions, the speaker mentioned the capacity available to jazz musicians of improvisation, novelty, and foresight to see upcoming issues. These "jazz musicians" are so well connected to the attitudes of their peers and contemporaries that they can effectively address community issues without seeming disingenuous. Educators have the same capacity born to them as do jazz musicians, we just need the opportunity (freedom) to implement dynamic lesson plans and challenge students to use their moral will and moral skills in the classroom. We cannot do this when burdened by overzealous rule-makers who do not know the benefits of dynamic activities in a challenging classroom.

The life of the classroom is at stake. An institution on to itself, the classroom is either a place where students are engaged and interested in the work, or students are disinterested and instead are negatively affecting the productivity of the classroom and teaching all others (including the teacher) how not to benefit in that laboratory of creativity and original thought.

The circumstance in the classroom is clear, the students and I can either pull content from their experience and match it with appropriate content forming a relevant and informative exercise of our practical wisdom and foresight, or I can deliver prearranged content that takes nothing from their experience, but instead intends to deposit it "into them". This philosophy requires students to see the value of the information and implement it without any outside leadership. I think the flaw in this mentality is obvious as it neglects student motivation--why are they doing the right thing when they think the right thing makes them an outcast and even they might not have the skills to perform what is being asked. Connecting nutrition to their lives and building the case for it's worth to them requires their input as well not just the input of the USDA. That kind of leadership transforms the students into philosophical thinkers/actors; Just what we need for the future.

Opposite a powerful student-center pedagogy is a teaching style with USDA content at the center and no independent thought. This top-down pedagogy forces the students to sit, listen, and regurgitate. When what they want to be doing is moving, talking, and creating. Asking students to stand up and speak for themselves, from their own experiences, challenging them to think critically about how their approach to nutrition could be better, and even the social impact of their nutrition beliefs makes the classroom far more dramatic and intense.

We cannot expect students to change their behaviors to a more healthy mode simply by providing nutrition content, for the simple reason that they already know most of what we tell them. They easily riddle off for me the usual nutrition catch phrases: "eat more fruits and veggies", "calcium for strong bones and teeth", "oil is not a food group", what we need is for them to care about their own health/nutrition. So, we need to respect their perspectives and simply provide an engaging platform from which they can advocate for themselves. Beyond such classroom advocacy they need leadership opportunities to practice their nutrition interests.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Looking Ahead by Looking Back

Tonight I'll be conducting the first of my Parent Workshops out in Northeast Philadelphia. The goal is to give parents a more formal opportunity to have a conversation about healthy snacking and the real consequences for our future. That's the key to unlocking the group identity: recognizing our common future in the children. A common future meaning the present opportunity for collaborative work for the sake of our children.

Coupling this conversation about the future skills and habits of their children with a cooking demonstration will give them the skills needed to begin incorporating healthier foods and enjoyable recipes into their child's life.

I see the session proceeding like this:
A. Introduce myself with a little personal history and detailing the Eat.Right.Now program.
B. Before engaging in a conversation about healthy snacking demonstrate easy/affordable/healthy snacks with a "cooking" demo.
C. Begin a conversation about our snacking goals and daily obstacles to providing youngsters with healthy snacks. How can we affect the desired goal? ==> Snacking cooperative?

In order for students to be working and playing within healthy environments parents have to take on a leadership role (and hopefully pass that same leadership attitude to their kids) to provide home support and opportunities for young people to make and eat healthy inside and out of their homes.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Power to the Young People!

Last night I conducted a cooking club session with around 12 eighth graders during which we made healthy crepes. I saw students engaged and interested in learning more and more about cooking. I, along with the teachers I've got helping, will be challenging the students to try their hands at intricate recipes. The ultimate goal for me is to put students into positions of leadership both advocating health and also working with their hands to create a delicious product. Uniting those two factors will create a pressurized educational environment teaching lessons of both nutrition and pride in leadership.

The greatest addition to such a program would be improvisation. Leading the students through recipe after recipe with the intention of creating a genuine circumstance of improvisation and food would allow for a lot of growth. So, how do you implement such an event? Assuming that teaching basic kitchen skills like recipe reading and measuring, along with safety skills, puts anyone in a position to experiment in the kitchen. It follows that with 4 or 5 lessons done with the same young people, they will feel comfortable using the tools and making basic foods. With such comfort instilled, the instructor provides a "mysterious" bag of ingredients and the students will have to develop a recipe on the spot without prior notice or extensive supervision. More than just improvisation and leadership skill building, an event like this could teach the use of seemingly disconnected foods into an incorporated recipe. such an experience would hopefully teach students how to take random ingredients in their home kitchens and work them into a healthy, delicious meal.

Leadership skill building is integral to a person's development as a critical thinker and actor. The lack of such skills is one reason students can sit through a nutrition class and not relate the curricular work to their lives or their communities life at all. Period. What I hope for are students who think about nutrition through the lens of a community activist working to empower others. I want students to be asking their friends and family: do people understand how this work connects to our community? or What are we doing to build community here? With sincere reflection on those kinds of questions comes critical mental and emotional health. I hope this addition to my regular classes in the schools will reinforce the belief in young people power.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Additions to the Program

The only hope nutrition education has to compete with the rich and powerful food industry interests is to arm students with a cultural lens of original thought. If they cannot think for themselves, they will be led to the corporatists' unhealthy foods.

Incorporating democratic principles into the classroom requires students to have the capacity to focus, participate, and lead. Leadership is integral to the utilization of resources, whether physical or intellectual. Creating activities to prompt such interaction is challenging but worthwhile. Fortunately I have the ability to position students in situations where they have as much control as I can afford them. So, this philosophy has manifested in the cafeteria tastings at one site and the cooking clubs at the other schools.

Specifically trying to maximize my leadership intentions for the students I plan on beginning to elect student leaders to supervise the team of students in the preparation of the healthy food and the distribution. Such an action will serve to both make my leadership intentions for these young men more operationally based (they will be acting as leaders, instead of talking about being leaders), and create a criteria for judging/measuring their leadership capacity.

Specifically trying to maximize the diversity of the education and the hands-on nature of it, I will be trying to incorporate as much gardening indoors and outdoors as possible. The possibilities for such expansion can teach through outdoors exploration and tasting even. I have high hopes.