HEC Academy students add nutrition education to their weekly schedule

Home E CES Stories E HEC Academy students add nutrition education to their weekly schedule
Article Author: Martha Maloney
Publication Name: Collaborative for Educational Services
Article Date: September 21, 2023
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A new focus has been added to the work of the HEC Academy students over the past year, and they are responding and finding rewards in inspirational ways. Lessons in food and nutrition last year led students to develop a proposal to include weekly food education as part of the curriculum at HEC. School administrators Pedro Gomes and Sherry Smith supported the students’ proposal by incorporating food education into HEC’s curriculum. 

Amy Stamm, one of two special education teaching coordinators at HEC, has spearheaded this new focus, explaining that she was awarded a food education fellowship last year through the Pilot Light organization. This gave Stamm the basis for her curriculum. Stamm had weekly training that helped her to put  “imagination into food education.”  “It helped me learn how to frame things about nutrition and center students’ food histories within a larger cultural context that informs our access and relationship to food.” 

Part of the work included a garden.  “The kids really wanted to create a new garden, grow their own food, and learn about nutrition. We started the garden last summer, and the kids did all of the work to plan and create it – a massive effort, clearing the plot of land, cleaning out the shed, then organizing the space, and completing an inventory of tools. They also researched vegetable growing conditions, drew up a budget, purchased seedlings, and planted the garden.” 

The students’ new knowledge led to the desire to actually cook and become comfortable in a kitchen. Seeing what ingredients they had and making something became a regular part of their week. Local chef Mii Bishai worked with the students to create an assortment of dishes which incorporated the vegetables they grew. “This summer, lunches weren’t  distributed here,” said Stamm, “so almost every day in the summer we cooked something for the whole school.”  Mii enjoyed her work so much with the students during the summer that she has continued weekly visits this school year. Students also visited Quonquont and Grow Food Northampton farms to talk with farmers about the effect of climate change on their crops.

This time in the kitchen led to a discussion about how many food-related disposable items the students went through in a week.  Stamm had the students work out the calculations about how many items were used in a day and a week by how many people, with the numbers showing them just how much was being thrown away.  The discussion about reusable dishware led to a conversation with the Jackson Street School team, who provides HEC Academy’s lunches, and through a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, HEC will be able to incorporate reusable materials into the lunch program.

Students also have expanded their reach by volunteering at Manna Community Kitchen, to help prepare and serve meals, and at the Village Closet, to sort and organize donations for the community, led by Brittany Helddon, HEC’s other special education teaching coordinator.  The coordinators of these programs have shared how much they appreciate how hardworking the HEC students are. 

This program has changed the way these kids eat, noted Stamm. With the support of the school educators and administration, the students have become so excited about growing, preparing, and eating healthy food. “That’s something that’s really great about this school. There’s a lot of support for this kind of learning,” says Stamm.

The work last year also resulted in another form of recognition, when HEC Academy was recognized as one of 3 out of 48 schools in  Massachusetts with  “outstanding environmental actions as members of the Green Team, a statewide environmental education program sponsored by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP).”  The students were thrilled to win a pizza party, held in the summer, and although this was one lunch that they did NOT make, they were inspired by the award to then prepare and cook their own pizzas.

HEC Academy is a therapeutic, public day special education program for youth in grades 9-12 who are eligible to receive services via an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Students typically present with social-emotional challenges, learning disabilities, ADHD, and/or Autism Spectrum Disorder. Students work individually and in small groups on academics, social skills, recreation, and community service, and earn credits toward high school graduation from their sending schools. We work diligently with our students to provide them with the tools, knowledge, and support they need to fully reach their potential, both in school and in the community at large. Learn more about HEC Academy.

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