YSHS ‘Food Exposition’— Presenting food for thought
- Published: December 3, 2015
The Yellow Springs High School gym was buzzing with excited energy Friday evening as hundreds of people turned out when the ninth-grade class presented the school’s first community Food Exposition.
The culmination of a 15-week unit of project-based learning, or PBL, study titled “Food for Thought,” the Expo featured 15 interactive booths where the students shared what they had learned in individual and group research.
Each station addressed a different food-related question or issue.
“Who makes our food?”
“Is corn healthy?”
The overarching question for the project, according to teacher Desiree Nickell, was: “How does food culture affect our lives, and how can we cultivate a healthier community through education about food choice?”
The project involved the entire ninth-grade class of about 75 students, Nickell said. The curriculum was multi-disciplinary and integrated the students’ English, world history, biology, art and algebra classes.
“That’s what makes it so special,” said Nickell, who teaches English at the high school.
In her class, students read such books as “Fast Food Nation” and “Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “did a lot of writing,” including reflections and a research paper.
In biology, “they learned about carbohydrates and lipids and they did plantings.” They also learned about aereoponic planting, examples of which were on display Friday night.
In math, students applied statistics to food-related topics. In art, they used artistic concepts to design posters and other presentation materials. They also designed the green Food for Thought t-shirts that students, teachers, staff and administrators wore with pride during Friday’s Expo.
“I think the kids didn’t know how much they knew until Expo night,” Nickell said later. “They definitely knew their stuff.
Stacia Strodes, 15, was happy to share her new knowledge about bees and how they make honey. She detailed the process with precision and passion. Her research evolved from what bees do, to why they’re important, and in turn fostered a concern for their health.
“Stay away from pesticides,” she said. “They play a big role in our enviroment.”
Andrew Siler, who is new to Yellow Springs schools, was part of the group that studied seasonings and spices. That booth examined the topic “Why Seasonings Matter,” and Andrew focused specifically on turmeric.
“It’s not that common in the U.S.,” he said, adding that part of the reason he chose the spice was its novelty. One of the most significant things he learned was that “it’s been shown to help with cancer.”
“When I chose turmeric, I didn’t know I would be studying cancer,” he said.
His grandmother, Mary Willis, who came to the Expo from her home in Huber Heights, said she was impressed not only by the level of knowledge shown by the students, but also by the quality of their presentations.
“It’s so well organized,” she said. “The students are so informed and everyone is watching their manners. They ask, ‘Are you in line?’ ‘Can I help you?’ You don’t see that in every school.”
Parent Lisa Qualls echoed the praise. “I think this is wonderful. It’s wonderful. The kids have excellent knowledge as you go from table to table.”
Her daughter, Hailey, was part of the presentation on chocolate.
“I love chocolate,” she said as a visitor approached her display. In learning about its source and production practices, however, she also learned about child and slave labor that can be involved in satisfying our collective sweet tooth. Now she’s an advocate of fair trade, and as she handed out samples of fair trade chocolate, she also passed out a flyer she had compiled listing companies that make or distribute fair trade chocolate and area stores that sell it.
Similar exchanges occurred at each booth, where students not only displayed informational material and spoke about their findings, but also shared pamphlets and flyers they had prepared for visitors to take home and use as community resources.
Each booth also had tasting opportunities — homemade baklava at the honey bee booth; quesadillas at the chicken booth; chili at the “Bison vs. Beef” booth. Each group partnered with a local chef, farmer or food expert to create the dishes.
The Food for Thought unit was developed by staff as part of the district’s PBL focus, which includes a community engagement requirement.
Teacher Nickell said the food-themed project has been their largest effort thus far, and it couldn’t have been done without the help and support of community mentors who came into the classrooms to share their expertise, hosted field trips, and worked one-on-one with the students.
The project also had financial support in the form of a $5,000 grant from the Yellow Springs Endowment for Education and $3,000 from the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation.
Nickell, who said she is “thrilled” with the results of the project, said that much credit for the planning, organizing and follow through goes to art teacher Elizabeth Simon. “She was our fearless leader, and if not for her, this wouldn’t have happened.”
Teachers and students agree that their lives have been changed by their study. Eating habits have changed, Nickell said, noting 8–10 students who have decided to become vegetarians. And students are better prepared to make healthy choices for themselves, their community and their environment.
The group that studied the Blue Zone movement, which promotes healthy lifestyles found in areas — designated as Blue Zones — where people live longer “sprightly” lives, has found community support in bringing the effort here.
“I’m a Blue Zone geek,” said villager Carmen Milano as she surveyed the Expo display. “Yellow Springs would be excellent to set the goal to be a Blue Zone community.”
And though the study unit is ending, some students have expressed interest in continuing to learn more and act on their new awareness outside of school. Nickell said that discussion arose in class on Monday about a growing effort to help local food stamp recipients use their public assistance at local farmers markets. “Some of students looked at each other, and said, ‘Let’s do it!’”