Written by Aliyah Moreno
For my community engagement project, I decided to to take on being a garden intern through the Berkeley Unified School District. I worked at Thousand Oaks Elementary School, and then halfway through I started to also intern at Oxford Elementary as well. When I first began working at Thousand Oaks, I thought to myself not only what I would get out of this experience, but also what positive impact I could leave with these students. With those thoughts, I didn’t know what my duties would actually include while being an intern.
My first visit, I quickly had learned that the teachers and students were having a hard time getting through the entire gardening lesson due to behavioral issues. I could sense the frustration amongst most people at the school because so much time was used for addressing rules and behavior, over the actual garden lesson and takeaways for the teachings. Specifically at Thousand Oaks Elementary, since I have spent more with those students, I have worked on what I could do to help these students, and I think what I learned that worked the best is building a relationship with the students, so they will learn to respect you as you respect them.
One experience that I had in particular that really solidified my passion for food systems and this project of working with kids was an event held at Thousand Oaks Elementary, called “Family Night”. This event was about inviting the students and their families to cook a meal together. At first when I was invited to attend the event and help out with it I didn’t know what to expect. At the event it was extremely impressive to see so many parents come out with their kids to spend an evening to make a meal together. My duties for this event consisted of helping prepare the produce which meant chopping everything up and placing it in the correct bowls.
First the parents had come in and checked in while they enjoyed some infused water, tea, and snacks. Then we went over a short lesson about sugary drinks and how bad they are for their children, even if they may seem like they are “100% fruit juice”. This was a short educational lesson for the parents that I think was extremely helpful. Then, we went over the instructions for the children and the parents prepare the dishes. We also had gone over safety for cutting the produce which was important. When I was helping the families while they were preparing and cooking the food, I observed that there was a lot of interactions going on with the parents and their kids and I think this was a great bonding opportunity for them. I also think this was a good hands on activity for the children to get familiar with all types of produce and how to properly cut it. Once the dinner was all cooked, the best part was serving the food and sharing the meal with all the families at the table, while sharing conversations.
With this experience, it really touched on the community engagement I was hoping to get out of this whole experience. I think something that I am really passionate about is the educational aspect of food systems and engaging all people to get familiar with food. This event allowed the parents to understand what their children is learning in the garden and the children can see that their parents are invested in their education. Overall, it was a great experience and I hope to take this experience and incorporate it into other food systems related projects I get into. Especially with events like “Family Nights”, I think more events like that can really get more people engaging in the community.