The day usually starts with whole grain French toast or quinoa granola, followed by some student-led yoga. Math, Science and Literacy studies come next. Frequent field trips to a United Nations peace rally or a local farm offer real-world experience to young flourishing minds. After the day’s curriculum, students participate in afterschool garden club or perhaps experiment with a dance class.
This is a typical day at The Academy for Global Citizenship, a Chicago Public Charter School located in the city’s Southwest side.
Sarah Elizabeth Ippel, the school’s forward-thinking founder, created this curriculum by borrowing educational techniques from over eighty-five countries and cultures. The result is an encouraging educational method and a model with proven widespread applicability. I recently had the opportunity to ask Sarah some questions about the academy. Here is what she had to say.
SG: Where did the idea for The Academy for Global Citizenship initially come from?
SEI: Throughout the founding of AGC, I traveled to over 85 countries across six continents to study international education systems. I saw how education worked – and often how it didn’t – in a range of cultural, economic and environmental conditions. Upon returning to the United States, I was struck by the extreme disparities I saw in Chicago’s public education opportunities and felt a great sense of urgency to help develop a more holistic model based on my observations.
SG: What does a typical student day look like at ACG?
SEI: Every morning, the Academy for Global Citizenship’s students are welcomed for a freshly prepared, 100 percent organic breakfast scratch made in our zero-waste kitchen. Common breakfast dishes include whole grain French toast made with sprouted Manna bread (our students visit the Manna Organics factory every year) and topped with fresh strawberries or our chef’s amazing homemade quinoa granola, which is packed with protein to nourish out students bodies and minds for the day’s work. After breakfast, students adjourn to their classrooms for student-led yoga to help transition from the bustle of breakfast and into the school day.
The school day continues with a strong foundation of math, science and literacy development, interwoven with concepts in sustainability, whole-student health and global citizenship. These lessons are enhanced by work the schoolyard garden and lessons in sustainability or nutrition during a wellness class or through collaborating with students around the globe. We take frequent field trips, recognizing the opportunities in our city and state. Depending on the unit of inquiry, students might take expedition to a farm, United Nations peace rally, downtown start-up or architecture firm to foster meaningful engagement with our local and global communities.
Our extended school day, with 17 percent more instructional time than the district average, is augmented with exciting after school opportunities, including garden club, cooking club, hip-hop dance and arts.
SG: The ACG produces a big percentage of its food on-site. Does ACG import any other food, beside what is produced on-site? Where do you import from?
SEI: AGC has 36 raised organic garden beds, but since we are located in Chicago, with the exception of our indoor herb wall and outdoor greenhouse, our food production might be under snow for 4-6 months. As a Title 1 Public School receiving federal school lunch funds, we work with Testa Produce and Aramark, our produce vendor and food service provider to source from local farms, which has been an evolutionary process since our founding in 2008. When we began this journey, it was quite unusual for a public school to demand organic produce, let alone to ask for organic and humanely raised meat and eggs from specific local farms. Now Chicago Public Schools is serving organic salads in 621 schools, locally grown organic carrots and more schools are sourcing locally from Testa Produce. We are thrilled at the progress we have seen in school lunch in the past six years. Another exciting development of the past few years is that we actually helped to produce the first ever School Garden Food Safety Procedure and, as its pilot school, were the very first public school in Chicago to legally serve home-grown produce in our school cafeteria. Prior to this manual, there was no safety procedure or training in Chicago, so school gardens couldn’t provide produce to cafeterias receiving school lunch funds. Now students all over the city can eat what they grow, which, coincidentally, is the name of the program.
SG: By exposing students to the life cycle of the food they consume, do you find that students bring a different methodology to the rest of their academics? How do students respond to the classes?
SEI: Absolutely! Our staff collaborates to make sure that lessons of nutrition and food production run through our entire school day. A local produce tasting can enhance a lesson in adjectives, if the food is “fresh,” and “crisp,” and the flavors “rich,” “heavy,” “delicate” or “overpowering.” Our first graders enjoy a six week “Farm to Table” unit every year, during which they study the journey of food from the ground to their plates. We find food production is an incredibly effective way to teach sequencing. Our students are more engaged in their learning because the topics are relevant to their lives.
Learning about the life cycle of food through our garden and egg-laying schoolyard chickens has helped our students become more aware of what they eat as well as sparked an interest in the origins and life cycles of other materials and creatures. Food has been an amazing introduction to all life-sciences and we look forward to this theme expanding as our students grow. We hope they will continue asking these questions, not just about where their food comes from or their paper cups go, but about other concepts too, the life cycles of power, money, ideas, or energy.
SG: Is this a model that could be implemented in public schools?
SEI: This is a model that is already being implemented in public schools around the country! We have welcomed 6,000 visitors from all over the world to observe our model and are actively working to scale and share our innovations. In addition to the Eat What You Grow Program, which is now available to all CPS schools and may soon be adopted by national organizations, we created a resource for greening every aspect of school operations, including school lunch, to further share our innovations. Our “Sustainable Schools Handbook” contains concrete steps, tips and tricks, best practices, success stories and online resources. We encourage educators, school leaders, school designers, households and operations managers from any industry to use this resource. It is available for free download on our website or purchase at our school.