get involved

For Teachers and Students- Start! There’s an old Chinese proverb that states “The best time to plan an tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” The same idea holds true for starting a fruit stand, cooking club, or healthy newsletter at your school. You are best positioned to make this happen.

For community members-¬†whether you tend a plot in a local community garden, love to cook for your family, are studying food systems and the environment in grad school, or are the parent of a child whose school you want to be healthier- you can catalyze an amazing food education project in your neighborhood school. All you need to do is find a local school and a principal, teacher, or staff person who trusts you and shares a belief that a healthy school community is fundamental to educational achievement. For volunteers from the community (including college/graduate students) you will need to get background check documentation to work with young people. Your contact at the school will have specific details on what clearances you’ll need and how to get them.

For a principal or after-school program director who wants to integrate food education into the culture of your school, the first step is recruiting an adult to oversee the project. This is the person who is responsible for recruiting and supervising participants and partners,  coordinating the procurement of supplies, and cultivating the project from inception to ending, inspiring the creation of a healthier community.

Just a single person is needed to do this. Ultimately the work is driven by the voice of young people, but first someone needs to set the stage to draw that voice out. Anyone can do this- the only requirements are reliability, passion, and experience, as well as the ability to oversee one hour long lesson each week (at least) during the day or after-school.

The first place to look is in-house. Are there any teachers, counselors, or other staff who have a natural inclination for gardening, cooking, and project-based learning?

The first Rebel Gardeners class was created under the guidance of a partnership between the nutrition teacher and science teacher. Pepper eventually had many other adult participants, including volunteers with experience as gardeners, chefs and journalists, undergraduate and graduate students recruited from local universities, and parents from the school. Each individual had a specific skill or experience that they wanted to share with the Rebel Gardeners- which increased the total number of students engaged and the diversity of projects to take on. With an open-minded philosophy towards partnerships, the Rebel Gardeners are immersed in a rich educational environment.

Local universities are an especially strategic reserve of talent and energy that can support the basic functioning of the Rebel Gardeners. Over the course 4 years at Pepper Middle School in Philadelphia, hundreds of students from Penn, Temple, and West Chester University were mobilized to support the healthy projects being implemented by the Rebel Gardeners at that school. For the principal or teacher who’s interested in working with local higher education students, the first step is to contact the staff person at the college responsibility for community outreach. Sometimes individual schools (like the Graduate School of Education at Penn) have their own assigned staff person in this role. Undergraduate and graduate students are always looking for sites to complete a field placement or community rotation, and participating in a Rebel Gardeners project and working with kids to create a healthier school community provides an opportunity for superior teaching and learning.

Key Questions:

If a volunteer is working with children in the school, does he/she have the needed background checks and clearances? If not, the school principal can lead the volunteer through the process of obtaining them.

Have you set clear expectations for project scope and timeline with Principal and/or After-School Director before beginning?