Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Felonies, Bikes and City Living
After approximately 4 weeks of practicing justification for procrastination, I was forced to commit to a trip to DCPS headquarters today for another round of fingerprinting and completion of my paperwork to become an "official" school volunteer. In my continuing quest to extend my environmental awareness beyond just food (really, I love things like A/C and paper towels and clothing-that-might -possibly-be-made-by-children-in-factories, so I'm honestly trying to expand my horizons and enlighten myself), I decide to Capital Bikeshare over there. Capital Bikeshare is totally awesome and easy to use. I even borrowed a helmet so my brains don't end up on the pavement (coordination is not my strong suit). Now that the weather is cooler and I won't arrive at destinations with a sweat stain on my butt and a stinky shirt, I'm determined to use it more often. This trip was perfect as it's a straight shot across the Capitol to arrive at the DCPS building. Very little traffic, almost no turns (I can never get those biking hand signals right). Suffice it to say, I arrived alive. Whew.
Back to DCPS. Although I used to teach in the system, I am not gifted with some sort of free pass on criminal investigation. Since I am going to be the guest "chef" at a local elementary school, DCPS needed to once again confirm I am TB and felony free. I visited my school back in September, and it has taken me this long to find a doctor, secure the test and then deliver the appropriate documents to the right people. I'm not proud of this, but this is what happens when you freelance at a dozen different agencies while traveling around the country on a research/writing assignment.
Meanwhile, my school patiently waits for me to begin. I was hooked up with them through Michelle Obama's "Chefs Move to School", a branch of the larger "Let's Move" campaign. This hookup took over a year.
I registered my information with "Chefs Move to School" over a year ago online (they have this nifty little map with little markers all over it proclaiming the happy marriages of chefs and schools all over the U.S.). I was really excited to work at a school since I figured my experience teaching, coupled with my culinary degree, would be a great fit. Unfortunately, beyond taking your information and making it available on their website, not much action happens (generic emails, maybe once a month). I briefly tried being proactive and contacting a couple of DC schools who were supposedly looking to be paired with a chef, but the information on the site was outdated. So, I basically moved on with other things and waited. This September, I received a very lovely letter from a preschool teacher at a school in Northwest DC asking if I would consider working with them. She was so sweet and excited, I had to say yes. (I didn't mention she was my only suitor.)
So, what is the "Chefs Move to School"(CMTS) program exactly? Well, that's a very good question. It seems to mostly be an idea. An encouragement, if you will. It promotes adopting a school and working with school personnel to envision ways to spread the message of better nutrition through education. There's a CMTS handbook with facts on childhood obesity and school lunches. It includes a template for starting a school program. Could you do all these things on your own without CMTS? Sure. But, as I stated, I think the program basically is to exist as a linking module. And, hey!, now I have a school, so I guess it works in that respect.
It seems there are a lot of organizations trying to use chefs as a tool in schools right now. Besides the CMTS umbrella, there's also the nationwide Farm to School program, and various other entities (such as the American Institute of Food&Wine's "Days of Taste" event) trying to recruit chefs to teach kids about food, for most on a one or two time basis...for a few, more regularly and long term. What do you think of this approach? Is it just a stop gap measure? Does it make actual inroads in helping kids and families eat better? Would these organizations' resources (both time and money) be better spent finding long term programs and participants to commit to schools? Or possibly helping schools to create jobs to bring on nutrition teachers and specialists more permanently? Or training existing teachers to implement food curriculums (see previous blog)? Maybe the chefs are just a jumping off point- to excite kids and inspire schools to start a more comprehensive program once they see the children's interest?
I start at my school this month. I'll be going on a monthly basis to teach lessons for 3 and 4-year olds exploring food (particularly fruits and vegetables) using the 5 senses. We'll be squeezing, smelling, slurping, seeing and squishing all sorts of local products. I can only hope that it creates some excitement in the kids and gets them comfortable with the foods I hope they'll eat for a lifetime.
In other news, I am gushing over Philabundance again over at Zomppa. Check out my semi-stalker status and article here.