Families and community leaders gather at Concord Elementary School at a neighborhood forum to lobby for healthier school nutrition policies. Photo by Austin Siadak.
My four year old eats quinoa every Tuesday at her preschool for snack. Wednesdays they get carrot soup for lunch. Fridays they bake bread. She's lucky to go to a school that sees healthy food as integral to her growth and development, and we're lucky we can afford to send her there. Because, of course, this school is a private one. Well, obviously it's private as we don't have free preschool in this country, but that's another blog post. Today's post is about how wrong it is that when my daughter goes to kindergarten, there's not a chance in hell that her food will be anywhere near as healthy.
I used to think that most kids in Seattle got more or less equal access to the the produce that abounds in my neighborhood. Being new to the area, I didn’t know that all I had to do was travel five miles south to see a starkly different scene. In South Seattle and the neighboring cities of King County, many have to take multiple buses to get healthy produce. Diabetes prevalence and mortality rates for African-Americans in King County are among the highest in the nation. In short, King County reflects the health inequity of our nation as a whole. And school lunches, well, sure they're better in certain neighborhoods, but kids in wealthier neighborhoods still have soda vending machines in their school hallways, and they still have tater tots in the cafeteria.
For the past year and half, I've been working on an obesity prevention initiative looking at the ways that where we live, work, and play impact our health. I've met people like Paulina, who tells a compelling story about struggling to provide healthy food for her children while living in a food desert. I've been inspired by the work of Lena and her friends who are doing their best to convince their school leadership that they would eat healthier if given the chance. I've heard directly from people like Dorsal, who are doing their best to reduce their addiction to soda. I think about Lena, Paulina, and Dorsal all the time when I walk down the hill to our local food cooperative. Their stories reflect the harsh reality about the connection between our neighborhoods and our bodies-- And you can bet that kids in their neighborhoods aren't getting quinoa for snack at their schools.
While I know the quality of my kids' school lunches will dramatically decrease as they move onto public elementary schools, I'm fairly confident that they won't grow up to be obese. They have the advantage of living in the right neighborhood, a strong foundation of healthy eating, and parents who are committed to vacuuming the kale chips that litter our carpet all summer long. But I know that kids eat almost fifty percent of their calories at school. They're kids after all, they'll take the tater tots any day. So why make them choose between healthy food and junk?
As a country, we haven't changed our guidelines for school nutrition in over thirty years. We need to update and strengthen policies at the federal, state and school district level that address healthy eating. And we need to start with the neighborhoods with the least access to healthy food--with the kids that need it the most.
To learn more about Mapping Our Voices for Equality, a grassroots strategy using new media to reduce health disparities in King County, visit our website at www.mappingvoices.org
Sometimes people ask me and Jen, "You both used to teach adult education, and now you do digital storytelling? That's a big career switch!" The truth is that as both fields are grounded in literacy, voice, and civic participation--it's been a natural transition for us. That's why some of our favorite moments over the past decade have been our repeated trips to Arizona to train our past-colleagues in multimedia tools for the adult education classroom.
About a year ago, when we were talking about the fifth Adult Education Digital Storytelling Institute with Sheryl Hart, Educational Technology Manager for Arizona's Adult Education, she said, "Wouldn't it be great if we could get everyone who has been through a digital storytelling training to come together for a few days?" That coversation marked the beginning of our scheming for the first Arizona Adult Education Digital Storytelling Conference on March 19th and 20th in Queen Creek. Almost fifty adult educators from the far reaches of the state came together to share their experiences creating stories in the classroom, to talk about getting programs off the ground, to using stories for advocacy, and technology resources for educators.
Josh Schacter gave an incredible presentation on his work with youth and photography (it even included a lemur dance which unfortunately was not recorded,) and Miguel Garcia of Queen Creek inspired us all by telling us about the story festivals he has hosted the past few years. Last spring he had over six hunded community members gather to watch dozens of stories produced by adult education students.
Pam Castor and Nancy Potenza of Cochise County Adult Education have also trained ALL of their adult educators in digital storytelling. Their supervisor, Jessica Dilworth, was my first employer out of college. It feels like coming home to watch her story that she produced in our Institute this past November, The Buffet.
While we had planned to screen stories as part of a "film festival" both days, we made a last minute decision to show all the stories of the educators who were present at the conference. Many of these had been produced in different years, so most of us hadn't seen all of them. Sheryl had opened the conference by talking about how profound an experience she had had back at our first Institute in 2005, making her own story.
We had to start passing around the tissues at that point! In all seriousness though, it was an amazing feeling to look around the room and have gained a few minutes of insight into the faces in the audience. Even more powerful--to know that each educator, each program manager, and each volunteer, is doing his or her best to pass on a legacy of honoring the stories, the wisdom, and the voices of adult education students across the state.
To check out some of the presentations and resources, take a look at the conference blog.