Learning By Doing At Sanchez School In San Francisco’s Mission District: Nutrition, Science and Community
Sanchez College Preparatory School’s vision for connecting classroom learning with education outside deepened during a visit to Sanchez School by Carlo Petrini, Founder of an international organization known as Slow Food. Mr. Petrini* and Dr. Isola, the former principal of Sanchez College Preparatory School, developed a School Community Development tool that incorporated five key elements.
1.) Create a more natural environment so that students could play, exercise and learn. This space includes an edible instructional garden where students learn to grow and prepare their own food. The intent is to support the construction of a bond between children, adults and food.
2.) Produce increased family and student access to seasonal, healthy food on a daily basis while elevating the awareness that it is no longer possible to sit at the table without paying attenetion to food quality, wholesomeness and safety, the provenance of food products, the quantity of fats and sugars, and the variety of the meals.
3] Engage key community members in the development of this project like chefs, local farmers,school staff, artists, parents, and businesses, neighborhood associations along with non-profit and community-based organizations.
4] Provide adults, parents and staff, opportunities to learn about nutrition and science through hands-on experiences in varied settings from the school garden and kitchen to The California Academy of Sciences.
5] Offer students community-based learning opportunities such as visiting local farmers’ markets and the Recology Center, studying about the watershed at The Presidio with naturalists and engaging in hands-on learning at the Exploratorium.
A Green Schoolyard Master Plan has been designed with participation of parents, students, staff and community members. This plan offers more open space and an outdoor learning environment. With the help of organizations like Slow Food San Francisco, INKA Biospheric Systems, Bi-Rite Market, Education Outside and others, the once under-utilized areas on campus became an active area with a school garden and greenhouse. The landscape includes multiple beds of greens, herbs, flowers and vegetables; a compost bin, an earth bed to feel the cool soil and explore for insects and worms, and with two state-of- the-art vertical garden** that is the first in a San Francisco public school being self-sufficient by generating its own electricity by means of a wind turbine and solar panels. Based on the school master plan, a large section of asphalt was taken out and two obsolete portable classrooms were removed to make room for a teaching garden and natural outdoor play environment.
A full-time green schoolyard specialist has been hired through a special grant to help coordinate outside lessons with classroom based science teaching. This specialist co- teaches with the science teacher to incorporate the student’s garden learning experience into the science curriculum which is reinforced and expanded upon by teachers in the classroom. The students also learn about recycling and composting. These combined learning experiences help students develop environmentally responsible stewardship behaviors that are connected to ecological values within the context of the school’s daily operation. In the spirit of continuing to build community, Sanchez School constructed an outdoor meeting space and peace garden right in the middle of the playground that included native plants, a cobb bench and tiled murals, and large rocks where the students could play and relax. This collaboration was an effort between the school staff, the Sanchez Neighborhood Association and the student council. The sculpture garden is located along the sidewalk of the school for the community to see and enjoy as they are walking through the neighborhood.
To further carry out this vision, Sanchez School formed a partnership with the San Francisco Food Bank in 2008. Sanchez School had built a learning space, enacted a curriculum but now needed to expand parent and the community involvement. This partnership allows students and families to have greater access to healthy food directly at the school. A weekly food pantry provides seasonal food to eighty families along with nutritional snacks for the students during the school day. Parents are responsible to organize an equitable distribution system at the pantry and continue to oversee this project. The staff from the SF Food Bank continues to be active partners by providing parents weekly cooking classes with healthy and nutritious bilingual recipes. These classes and recipes help parents who may not be accustomed to preparing some of these foods have the opportunity to learn how to have a more balanced and nutritious diet in their daily lives.
Parents are very supportive of this educational approach for their children to develop their science knowledge and skills because of the fact that many of the good paying jobs will require academic preparation in science in such promising sectors as health care, enviriomental sciences, bio-medical research, engineering along with computer and technological sciences. Parents also appreciate the school promoting healthy eating habits for children and families. Hopefully other school communities can adopt a similar tool to raise awareness about the important place that outside education has in the learning process and to help support a more nutritious and healthy lifestyle that is connected to academic learning in the classroom.
* Carlo Petrini visits Sanchez School, produced by Carmen Tedesco, SF Slow Food.
** Vertical Garden - Version 2.0 Produced by Carmen Tedesco, SF Slow Food.