Public Education Focus of D.C. Event
by YVETTE MOORE*
Forty United Methodist Women environmental and social-action leaders focused on public education and health of public-school children in a daylong event March 9 in Washington, D.C. The training for Green-Team members and conference mission coordinators for social action preceded Ecumenical Advocacy Days, a weekend of briefings and visits to congressional representatives that drew more than 1,000 Christians to the nation’s capital March 9-12. Those attending the Women’s Division event also participated in the ecumenical advocacy effort, which the division helped sponsor.
Carina Wong, executive director of the Berkeley, California-based Chez Panisse Foundation, and Gretchen Smith, a United Methodist Women Green Team leader and public-school teacher in Hollywood, Ga., challenged the United Methodist Women leaders to push schools in their communities to serve healthier food and to integrate hands-on nutrition lessons into curricula.
The Chez Panisse Foundation is known for its Edible Schoolyard program in which urban children grow vegetables and fruits that are harvested and served in school cafeterias. The program, started by chef Chez Panisse, is one of a growing number of school gardening programs around the country that are helping children learn about healthy eating through farming and cooking experiences. Ms. Wong said growing produce gave students in the program a relationship to the food and encouraged them to eat healthy foods they once shunned.
“We have raspberry bramble in the summer program and chard in the winter – and the kids really eat it and love it,” Ms. Wong said. “It’s not just a nutrition program but one that asks, `Does it taste good, and is it good for you?”
The program teaches children through example to eat foods that are in season, grown locally and grown sustainably without pesticides. They learn to eat together with friends and family. Rising levels of child obesity and diabetes show health is an issue public schools must address through innovative education, Ms. Wong said.
Ms. Smith addressed similar health issues with rural children in Georgia. Ms. Smith integrates nutrition and math in hands-on lessons that include growing and preparing healthy “survival” foods. Her class has baked bread, cooked beans and rice, grown herbs in the classroom, and eaten fruit grown by a local farmer.
“Our class pet is sourdough starter – we have to feed it,” Ms. Smith said. “I have big boys soaking beans, cooking them and eating them. They’ve learned to cook healthy meals that can feed their families for a week.”
Ms. Smith urged the women to push for a ban on junk food in school cafeterias and vending machines and for programs to encourage healthy eating.
“Have garbage-less lunch days, where everything associated with the meal can be eaten or have a How Many Kids Tried The Vegetables contest where the winners are rewarded with extra physical education,” she said.
Ms. Smith also urged the women to push for removal of Styrofoam from school cafeterias.
United Methodist Women leaders at the one-day event also discussed presentations by representatives of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and a United Methodist Women member who serves on the board of the National Home Education Network. While federal legislation paved the way for charter schools, each state has its own rules and criteria governing these publicly funded schools.
“The purpose of the presentation was to educate United Methodist Women on issues impacting public education,” said Susie Johnson, Women’s Division executive for public policy.
*Yvette Moore is an executive secretary for communications for the Women’s Division of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries.