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Writing a School Food Policy That Everyone Can Stomach (Free Download!)

3 Apr

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AGC’s commitment to healthy, sustainable food is central to our model and to our students’ success at AGC and beyond.

Food is a community health issue. Children require proper nutrition for optimal growth and development. Eating habits that begin in childhood play a key role in lifelong health issues like cholesterol, blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes, and can impact many other chronic diseases.

Food is a social justice issue. Nutrition-related diseases disproportionately impact low-income and minority communities, and one in four Chicago Public Schools students are obese.

Food is an academic issue.  Nutrition impacts socio-emotional and academic functioning. It is well documented that hunger has a strong negative impact on classroom behavior and academic success. Additionally, major studies have shown that the quality of a student’s diet has a major impact on academic performance even after controlling for socioeconomic factors. 

Unfortunately, most young people are not following healthy dietary guidelines. Schools can send conflicting if not detrimental messages when they promote unhealthy food in their cafeterias, vending machines, bake sales, and as rewards for classroom success.

As we were creating this unique school, knew that we wanted to develop a schoolwide culture that supported our mission and vision surrounding healthy food.

But how do we define healthy food in a way that makes sense to students, is accessible to students, and matches ever-evolving research and medical perspectives?  How do we get our teachers and families on board? How do we ask an entire community to change the way they eat? How do we honor important cultural food norms? How do we ensure that no one feels ashamed? How can we meet our students and families where they are and inspire them to grow?

We knew that it was important that our staff and parents model healthy choices for our students. We knew we wanted to help our students develop a healthy relationship with food and an appreciation for healthy food. We knew that we needed to create a schoolwide wellness policy that included nutrition guidelines.

Like most things at AGC, our food policy grew organically, over many conversations with different stakeholders. Our policy was a living breathing thing. It began as a sensible “stoplight” based on nationally accepted best practices. Over the years, specific items would appear at school that would challenge the framework. We had heated debates with our students over the hot sauce they brought from home which was salty and processed, but, they argued, encouraged them to eat more vegetables. Over time, the food policy stoplight developed into a lengthy and confusing mix of broad categories and specific products. In recent years, we reflected on the purpose and process of the stoplight in order to better clarify and curate the information.

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Click to download AGC’s Food Policy poster for free!

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Would you like to implement a food policy stoplight in your school or community?

Contact us at hello@agcchicago.org to share your stoplight success story or to inquire about support with culture, curriculum, and operations integration.

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Insight and Wonder Part I: Student Spaces and Rituals

21 Oct

Our first task, as we work to develop our future campus, the Midwest’s first energy net-positive school, is to cull the hopes, desires and expectations of our stakeholders. For so many, this school has been a nearly decade long dream. The opportunity to engage all stakeholders in shaping our future campus has sent ripples of excitement through our hallways!

In addition to our incredible architects at Studio Gang, we are working with Wonder, By Design and Rosan Bosch Studios, both international experts in designing learning spaces. Wonder, By Design, whose co-founders Christian Long and Trung Le helped write The Third Teacher, has been working with AGC for years to help envision this campus. Our incredible design team has been focused for the last two months on stakeholder workshops and observing the rituals and culture of our school community to inform the development of our design brief or “manifesto,” for this future campus.

The first stage of this process was for our design team to immerse themselves in AGC’s school day processes. They took photographs, set up time-lapse cameras, observed rituals, sat in on democratic school meetings, and learned alongside students during our 8 hour school day (twice). This “Insight Week” was an intense series of three 12 hour days, from 7 am democratic school meetings to late night dinners with our external partners, mirroring the busy life of AGC’s families and staff.

It has been incredible for all of us to reflect on our very special community of learners through the eyes of our design team. Here are some of the moments they chose to capture while observing our students. Next, we’ll explore their workshops and interviews with our staff, our families, local leaders, external partners and experts in sustainable design.


BACK TO SCHOOL DAY 1: K-2nd Grade Observations at 47th Street.

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In our small rented-spaces, students and staff use space creatively, including turning walls into kid-height chalkboards and storing supplies on windowsills. How can these uses be incorporated into a new design?

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Students have their own space outside our classrooms for coats, water-bottles, take-home projects and their “outdoor shoes.” We ask students to bring slippers to protect our floors and carpets and to improve indoor air quality by limiting what is tracked through our halls. Reusable water bottles keep students hydrated and reduce the need for trips to the water fountain and disposable drink containers. How can we honor student spaces in a future campus?

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“Todos los niños son estrellas brillantes/ All children are bright stars!” Our bilingual school features handwritten signs – an opportunity for our students to practice translating writing, and reading in other languages. Many students and staff switch openly between languages.

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Todd Zima, Principal at Studio Gang Architects and Trung Le, Co-Founder of Wonder, by Design observe the many uses of our parking lot area. How will flexibility of spaces translate into a new facility?

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Wonder, by Design founder Trung Le and Rosan Bosch Studios founder Rosan Bosch chat while AGC’s Maintenance Manger, Danny, builds a larger run to allow our schoolyard chickens more space to play on nights and weekends when they cannot run free in the yard.

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Reading nooks and cozy spaces abound in our tiny barrel-factory. How will our state-of-the-art new campus meet our need for comfortable and cozy spaces?

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Chef Eddie gives a high-five during lunch. Our on-site food programs allows our students, staff and families to connect directly to the journey of food from farm to the table and allows our chef, who is also an AGC parent to see first-hand how students react to dishes and tweak accordingly.

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BACK TO SCHOOL DAY 2: 3rd-5th Grade Observations at the Annex building on the campus of Phoebe Hearst Elementary School.

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AGC supports our teachers professional development through coaching. Literacy specialist and founding AGC teacher, Meredith bounces between classrooms in both buildings to support teachers and students.

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Seating options in our 3-8th grade building allow older students responsibility over their learning experience and help meet a variety of student learning styles.

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Teachers and students design their classrooms to meet their needs and wants. How can this flexibility grow with us?

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Student, staff and families all said that natural lighting was a priority. Current AGC students can look forward to the natural light in our middle school classrooms, on the second floor of our Annex building next door to Hearst Elementary School.

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AGC and our neighbors at Hearst worked with Openlands to create this native plant garden and outdoor classroom in the space between our two buildings. The murals, designed by the Green Star Movement and created with help from students at AGC and Hearst, say “grow” and “conserve.”

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Principal Jenn Moore supports a student council meeting held at a small table under the stairs. Student council meetings follow many of the same structures as our staff’s democratic school meetings, with rotating roles like “leader,” “process observer,” “note taker,” and “caboose.”

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During recess, students used tall brush cuttings to build a fort around the base of a tree. They requested that no trees die during the construction of our net-positive campus.

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“I Never Knew Businesses Could Be This Awesome.” AGC Students Inspired by Earth Day at Abt Electronics

2 May

This Earth Day, AGC’s 3rd graders took an eye-opening trip to Abt Electronics to explore themes from two units of inquiry “Community Economy” and “Way too Much Energy.”

Abt’s Electronics is a family-owned electronics company that has grown from three employees in the 1930s to over a thousand employees today.

In addition to providing over 75 years of exemplary customer services and dozens of awards for excellent customer and employee care, including three years running as a Chicago Tribune Top Workplace, Abt has established themselves as a model for sustainable operations. Among Abt’s sustainable innovations, our students were most impressed with:

– Abt’s biodiesel delivery fleet (not to mention biodiesel dump trucks and bobcats)

– Abt’s capacity to recycle 95% of their waste, including on-site styrofoam, battery and electronics recycling,

– Abt’s 37 acre warehouse and store has reduced their landfill trash pickup from once daily to once a week

– onsite windmills, solar panels and a natural gas generator producing off-the-grid energy for a drastic reduction in the company’s energy footprint

-onsite healthy food, gym and bike rental

-onsite electric car charging stations.

Abt Electronics, their employees and leadership are incredible models for our nation’s young people as they inherit a society increasingly dependent on the health of our planet. Says AGC educator Berenice Salas “ABT electronics is an exemplar community business that opens its doors with the absolute purpose of sharing their love for the Earth.”

Our students were greeted by brothers Mike and Jon Abt and enjoyed a full day of meaningful activities with Abt’s enthusiastic team. Highlights from the day included:

  • A scavenger hunt of recyclable and non recyclable items.
  • Earth day arts and crafts
  • A visit to the generator room
  • An employee in scuba gear cleaning the store’s amazing aquarium
  • Behind the scenes access to the security room
  • Lunch in employee cafeteria
  • Participating in recycling styrofoam by assisting in loading unto conveyor below.

Finally, AGC students treated Abt customers and employees to an impromptu yoga demonstration in the store’s spectacular atrium.

Each activity and experience reinforced our students’ understanding of the important role of sustainability in business.

Abt demonstrates that, in addition to being crucial to the survival of our species and planet, sustainable operations can save a business infinite funds. It’s just good business.  Ms. Salas adds:

 “Our units of inquiry (Community Economy & Way Too Much Energy) came to life as we learned about the Abt family’s active citizenship within local economy and their dedication to renewable energy. This visit put our learning into real world application. This context, this exposure, needs to be modeled to our children. What an inspiration!”

The visit had a lasting impact on students, staff, parent chaperones. A chaperone reflected that “Our children’s curiosities are unique in the sense that they are asking questions that can transform our world.” The chaperone added with enthusiasm that “Knowing that a business like this exists, I will make sure to spread the word.”

AGC Students March Against Plastic!

23 Apr

As part of a 6 week unit of inquiry called “Our Global Impact”, AGC fourth graders learned about how human behaviors and actions negatively affect the environment. The students were inspired by their research to take various courses of action towards reducing the negative impact of plastic bags on their planet.  

After watching the documentary “BagIt,” they were inspired to do some investigative journalism of their own. They invited Coleman Franklin, Co-founder and Vice President of  Better Bag, and conducted an interview on camera. Coleman and his colleagues are part of a statewide and national movement to ban plastic bags because of their profound effect on the environment, food chain and our health. Better Bag, a Chicago-based startup, are offering a plastic bag alternative out of corn, other plants and sugar cane.

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As they uncovered the truth about plastic, our students were shocked to find out how harmful plastic is to their earth, the animal kingdom and, ultimately, themselves. They decided to take action! In addition to working on their own documentary, raising awareness about plastic and its alternatives, our students organized a peaceful protest against the unnecessary use of plastic and plastic bags.

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Fourth graders invited their peers, families, AGC staff and community members to march from 46th street to Archer Park on Earth Day, April 22nd, with signs and slogans while all the while picking up trash, plastic and compostables in the neighborhood.  Classes from Kindergarten to 5th grade were invited and many to voted to join the march. Once at the park, 4th graders led small group discussions with their peers to share with them what they had learned in their unit of inquiry.

Our little school proudly filled the park with colorful posters drawn on recycled paper and cardboard. Take a moment to flip through this album and enjoy our students’ original slogans, including “Plastic Is Lame” and “Say BOO To Plastic.”

Connecting Farms to Forks: Door to Door Organics

21 Feb

At AGC, students enjoy scratch made meals from locally sourced ingredients (meet our farmers here.) Believing fervently in access to quality local and organic foods, we want to make it easier for families to access these ingredients as well as students.

Last month, we debuted the Organic Food Buying Club, using our collective purchasing power to offer local organic produce to AGC families and staff at wholesale prices. This program is an evolution of the CSA boxes of previous years. Our Food Buying Club allows participants to choose from common ingredients: lettuce, tomatoes, chicken and carrots, making this new arrangement more ideal for busy families. For so many families in Chicago and around the world, access to good local organic produce is hindered by obstacles of geography, cost, and convenience.

Our friends at Door to Door Organics are breaking down these obstacles for people all over the country. Door to Door delivers great food direct from local family farms to residents Colorado, the Chicagoland area, the Tri-State area, Michigan and Kansas City.


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Door to Door sources gorgeous organic produce from family farms alongside ethical meats (Smoking Goose, anyone?) and unique local products like the Co-op Hot Sauce. Door to Door will bring you many of our students’ favorite goodies, including Manna Sprouted Breads (our kids go wild for their cinnamon raisin bread,) milk from Sassy Cow and produce from Harvest Moon Farms.

We at AGC are inspired by Door to Door’s mission to strive for sustainability in all that they do. They provide a magnificent direct link between farmers and families and are a shining example of an ethical company. Door to Door makes healthy habits accessible with nutritional recipes and their “AskChefChris” twitter sessions. Door to Door Chicago diverts 500 pounds of organic waste each week from landfills to compost to help urban farms feed Chicagoans. More than just a grocery delivery service, the advocates at Door to Door work to promote a positive and pioneering food culture, including lending a hand to like-minded non-profits like AGC whenever then can.

We would like to thank Door to Door for generously donating their boxes as perks for Illinois residents who donated to our Dream School Campaign. We hope that these boxes will help some develop an appreciation for the outstanding flavors of organic and local produce.

Rebuilding Education: an AGC Celebration

23 May

Check out the latest update! 

The countdown continues as we approach the epic celebration on June 24! The Rebuilding Education is gaining traction with more event sponsors! Great giveaways coming from the silent auction sponsors, including Hannah’s Bretzel, Sunday Dinner, Trunk Club, and Heritage Chicago!

Please join AGC staff, parents, friends, family and supporters for an event that is sure to be one of our best yet.  

DJ Derrick Carter, an internationally respected Chicago native and one of the most versatile DJs in the world will entertain us while we fill our bellies with incredible grub from Ruxbin Restaurant, Smoking Goose, and Pleasant House Bakery, drinks from Two Brothers Craft Beer, Death’s Door Gin, and Virtue Hard Cider, and, for desert: treats from Honeypie Café. 

Academy for Global Citizenship Rebuilding Education Sunday June 24

Click here to buy tickets!

The advertisement below is not sponsoring the event.

Another Magical Day at AGC

14 Jun

I arrived at school this morning to discover AGC’s Chef, Miss Julia, harvesting organic lettuce in the schoolyard garden for lunch – our Custodian, Mr. Danny, tucked away in the wind turbine tightening a few screws – the chickens were happily taking in the fresh summer air – and our students were singing “Here Comes the Sun” underneath the solar schoolyard trellis.  Another magical day at AGC!

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