Chicago Public Schools Organic Food Pilot Program
Fri 27 May 2011
Story by Sarah Elizabeth Ippel and Stephen Menyhart
The Academy for Global Citizenship (AGC) is a Chicago Public Elementary School that opened in 2008 on the Chicago’s under-served Southwest side. AGC’s mission is to empower children to become active global citizens by positively impacting on their community and the world beyond.
Our innovative and holistic approach to education aims to revolutionize the role of a school. AGC engages its students in a learning style that traverses far beyond the classroom. Math and science are drawn upon in the cultivation of an organic garden; language arts are incorporated as the students tend to their urban schoolyard chickens; and health and wellness are promoted as students walk to school and enjoy AGC’s fully-organic breakfast and lunch.
Fundamental to its values, AGC focuses on being a replicable model that improves the quality of life, learning and leadership from within. At AGC, a sustainable life is considered to be one armed with mental agility, physical health and unlimited vision.
An AGC education extends far beyond a solid academic foundation. Organic, nutritionally balanced meals provide a strong mental and physical basis. Daily yoga centers the body and mind. Gardening teaches about life and food. Wellness instruction helps to forge healthy habits and sound ecological practices throughout the school encourage learners to develop sustainable lifestyles. Ultimately, AGC engages the whole child in an enriching educational community, focused on fostering wellness, international awareness and environmental stewardship.
At AGC, we celebrate global cultures through food with our “International Menu Days”. This activity is well suited for upper elementary grade levels but can be adapted for any age students. It is a student-led process that begins about a month before the actual menu day. At that stage, students browse through cookbooks from around the world, and decide which nation to select. The students then work closely with the school chef to set an authentic menu that both reflects the cuisine of that nation, and meets all USDA requirements. Two “sous-chefs” are chosen by the classroom teacher based on their excellent behavior, solid academic standing, and proven interest in food and cooking. These “sous-chefs” assist the chef by making small batches of each recipe, the day before the menu is featured school-wide. Consequently, they become the best advocates for the food the next day as they encourage other students to try the new foods on the lunch line.
On the day of the event, the culture of the chosen nation is brought into the lunchroom through music, flags, and informational displays, all coordinated by students. So far we have celebrated the cuisine of Egypt, Brazil, Mexico, and Spain, and have plans to visit the renowned food cultures of France and Korea before the school year is through. Specific dishes of note have included Kosherie (Egyptian Street Food with Lentils and Spicy Tomato Sauce); Chicken Pozole (Spicy Mexican Stew with Hominy); and Spanish Paella (both Chicken and Tofu versions).
As an International Baccalaureate Candidate School, the characteristics of international mindedness are woven throughout our operational practices – from the classroom to the lunchroom. As such, the International Menu Days have been a wonderful opportunity to bring this mission to life within our school community. Our students have been exposed to new tastes and cultural traditions, and their interest in trying different foods has been ignited by their active engagement with culinary planning and preparation.
The Academy for Global Citizenship is grateful for the vision of both Chicago Public Schools and (the district’s food service provider) Chartwells Thompson Hospitality, AGC’s partners for the organic food pilot program. Although AGC is responsible for the additional food and labor costs associated with the initiative, the partnership has created opportunities to systemically extend recipes and lessons learned to the rest of the district. Over the past three years, Chicago Public Schools has become nationally acknowledged for their innovation, including local procurement strategies and robust nutritional standards. As a result of our collaboration, AGC was the first school in the Midwest to receive the USDA’s Healthier US School Challenge Gold with Distinction Award, in conjunction with First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative.
About the authors: Sarah Elizabeth Ippel is the Founder and Executive Director of AGC and Stephen Menyhart the AGC Chef.