In summer 2017, Stone Barns Center hosted 21 high school teachers from Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles and Miami for our first Teacher Institute. This 10-day professional development workshop was the first step toward expanding the Center’s high school food studies curriculum beyond the New York City metro area, where it has taken root over the past three years, and into these four target cities.
The first cohort of teachers came from public, charter, college prep, and career and technical schools. Collectively, they teach 5,426 students a year. Most of them work with highly disadvantaged students in under-resourced schools. The courses they teach span social studies and science to health, sustainability and greenhouse production.
“We were looking for teachers with some demonstrated interest and commitment to food education, but who were—more important— willing to stretch themselves,” says Rene Marion, director of education at Stone Barns Center. “But this workshop turned into an utterly transformational experience for them.”
While soaking up their seminars and discussions in the fields and pastures, the teachers borrowed ideas from one another and bonded over wine and conversation late into the night in their quaint quarters at the Hackley School dormitories. “They fully gave themselves over to an exploration of food in all of its complexity and transformative power,” says Rene.
Erin Land, a teacher from the Guthrie Center, in Houston, was one of those transformed. “I’m moved, I’m shaken, I’m changed,” she wrote in her departure summary. “I had become complacent in my job, my life. I needed focus and to be reminded what’s important. It’s been a long time since I felt this alive.”
Asked what he had expected to get out of the course, Los Angeles teacher Brian Bleser wrote, “Some materials that I could give to my culinary arts teacher.” But, he, too, came away changed: “I feel I am now an ambassador for agroecology and can do my part to continue the movement. I did not expect to have such an experience at Stone Barns.”
Over the coming year, we anticipate most of the teachers will implement all or part of the food studies curriculum at their schools. Of course, the Houston and Miami teachers were met with huge setbacks when they returned, namely hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Less than a month after leaving Stone Barns, Houston teacher Kathleen Roussel was in an emergency shelter, with her home flooded and her community in crisis. But her school reopened the week of September 11, and her determination to make change was still intact.
Thanks to generous support from Unilever, Stone Barns Center will offer the Teacher Institute again next summer. Meanwhile, we are developing a new website that will make sample lessons available to high school teachers anywhere and house the full food studies curriculum.
If you are a teacher interested in bringing food studies to your classroom, click to learn more about this program and other professional development opportunities from Stone Barns Center.