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Students Step Up For Sustainability

Submitted by: Amanda Rowland

Posted: Sep 23, 2015 – 06:00 AM EST

Series: Education for a Sustainable Future

Tags: education, nutrition, health, sustainability

 
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This is the most recent article in our series "Education for a Sustainable Future". For more articles, go to http://www.csrwire.com/blog/series/86-education-for-a-sustainable-future/posts

What happens when you ask four 9th graders to create a solution for increasing healthy food availability or encouraging healthy behaviors within their community?

If they’re my team of freshmen from Johnston County Early College Academy, they develop the Grotesque Grocer, a program that works with normal food distributors and local farmers to sell perfectly edible but irregular produce at discounted prices. Then they present their proposal to a panel of industry and higher education professionals and win a $2,000 first prize to implement their ideas! 

This amazing experience began earlier this year with the NC New Schools / Breakthrough Learning Innovation Challenge. Teams of four to six students were invited to use practical skills including research, teamwork and communication to develop their ideas for increasing healthy food availability or encouraging healthy behaviors within their community. Teachers and industry professionals advised the teams during the planning process. Christopher Gergen of HQ Raleigh and NC New Schools staff brainstormed with industry partners, entrepreneurs, students and teachers to craft the challenge theme and format. 

Nineteen teams from 11 schools across the state submitted proposals and videos, which were judged by industry and higher education professionals based on clear needs analysis, innovative and realistic solution, level of positive impact, and potential for sustainability. Proposed ideas included an app for managing diabetes, a community garden and a video game about healthy choices for students. 

Out of the eight groups competing on the final day from across North Carolina, we brought four — and our kids were primed and focused. Even when we had them vote on where we’d eat lunch, they chose Subway, as it seemed to them to be the more healthy option of all the fast food choices available. They were clearly educated on their subject matter. 

In the end, all eight student groups were amazing. They were poised, practiced and professional. Of course, I was especially proud of our four teams. They had worked together in their groups for several months conducting research, collaborating on their innovations, troubleshooting technology issues, and revising their persuasive pitches, and their learning stretch was evident.

All of our students benefited from the Innovation Challenge. I suggested a framework from which to begin, but that was all. The project was entirely student-centered and student-generated. Students are easily engaged in project/problem based learning because they could see the real world relevance of classroom work. My students were particularly driven by the promise that corporate partners would help fund the winning proposal — a $2,000 first prize sponsored by Cisco.

In the weeks following the competition, I started to receive emails from the corporate partners ready to set the Grotesque Grocer in motion. At the same time, The Grotesque Grocer’s team members have been emailing me, ready for the next step. One wrote saying, “I spoke to a cardiologist interest[ed] in funding and supporting our idea and he wants to meet with the group.” This is what extending learning beyond the traditional classroom can look like. When students see these connections between what they’re learning and how they can make a difference in their community, they’re learning about sustainability.

I am excited and daunted by my students’ next step toward action. It’s clear that my school has entered in to a new arena of community-based learning — and the students will not be the only ones who are expanding their minds.

This is the most recent article in our series "Education for a Sustainable Future". For more articles, go to http://www.csrwire.com/blog/series/86-education-for-a-sustainable-future/posts

The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by CSRwire contributors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of CSRwire.

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