My name is Bryan Soto, and I have worked as the Health and Wellness Teacher for 3rd-8th grade students at the Academy for Global Citizenship (AGC) since 2014. As part of our curriculum, students learn about the six aspects of wellness – physical, spiritual, social, emotional, intellectual, and environmental. More importantly, we learn and discuss the interconnected nature of these different aspects of our lives.
Living an active lifestyle and following a healthy diet are only part of the equation when it comes to being healthy and well. At AGC, our Wellness Wheel guides much of the learning in our class as students learn that their social and emotional wellness (and their understanding of it) also play a critical role in their wellbeing. Students in our wellness program learn about breathing techniques, different forms of mindfulness activities/exercises, and the importance of meditation and self-reflection. Throughout the years, students have completed a variety of culminating projects that have included self-care guides and manuals, personal growth plans, and emotional first-aid kits to demonstrate their understanding of these practices.
This year I was selected as part of the first group of Pilot Light’s Food Education Fellowship where educators are supported in meeting their school’s rigorous academic standards and nutrition requirements while creating exciting and meaningful learning experiences around food for their students. With the help of renowned chefs and experienced educators, Pilot Light has developed a cohesive model for classroom food education, incorporating food as a tool for learning and teaching to the more traditional subjects such as Math, Reading, History, and Science.
Pilot Light provided our school with $1,000 for food and supplies that students can use during our lessons, but with close to 300 students in 3rd-8th, I knew that the need for resources was greater than what was granted. Shortly after receiving the grant I started a Donors Choose campaign where I shared our story with our AGC friends, staff, parents, board members, and the rest of the world! In less than 1 week we raised over $1,700 dollars which were used to purchase kitchen and art supplies for all my students.
Thanks to our Pilot Light partnership this year, AGC also received a mobile teaching kitchen cart which was built using repurposed wood boards from old CPS buildings! Through a series of games and activities, my students are learning to identify different fruits and vegetables and their health benefits, as well as junk food and its effects on our wellness. During the year students will learn about cooking/kitchen hygiene and etiquette, practice math every time we read a nutrition label, scale a recipe, or learn about portions and ratios. In class, we discuss culturally appropriate ways in which students can encourage healthier grocery shopping, cooking, and eating practices at home today and into their futures.
Our learning at AGC does not stop in the classroom as students are assigned a series of at-home learning experiences meant to give them an opportunity to apply and demonstrate their learning while making real connections from the classroom to the grocery store, the kitchen, and their lives in general. Some of my biggest successes go beyond the data that assessments provide and include the anecdotal evidence I constantly receive from my students’ parents. Over the years, I have had parents tell me that after my classes their children refuse to drink soda at home, or begin demanding whole grain bread over white bread, or even going as far as cutting out meat or junk food on their own accord. No success is greater than knowing my class has served as a catalyst for real change in their current life paths and wellness journeys.