By Jenn Mampara, Director of Education

Evaluation of the FRESHFARM FoodPrints program suggests it is an important change agent, helping to positively frame children’s relationship to food, shape schools’ capacity for nutrition education, and support the broader academic mission of DCPS in its integration of subject standards into its food and garden curriculum. 

This is a core finding of a recent evaluation of FRESHFARM FoodPrints conducted by George Mason University Center for Social Science Research. Dr. Amy Best and undergraduate students Alexis Lehr and Kayla Peterson observed FoodPrints programming at two schools through the 2015-16 school year to evaluate the implementation and outcomes of the program.

> Read the FRESHFARM Highlights of the GMU FoodPrints study
> Read the Executive Summary of the GMU researchers’ study of the FoodPrints program

Evidence from this evaluation suggests that FoodPrints is a feasible and sustainable program model for contemporary nutrition education and is able to successfully integrate subject standards into its curriculum.

Key findings of the GMU research include:
  • FoodPrints’ educators encouraged students to work collaboratively and engaged students by involving them in every step of the process. Classes offered child-centered, active learning opportunities. 
  • Lessons were focused on real world application of core subject matter concepts in math, science and language arts. Students practiced making predictions, evaluated the real world evidence before them, and were encouraged to draw conclusions based on evidence.
  • Lessons promoted a critical consumer literacy as a health strategy. Students learned strategies to be more scrutinizing consumers of the food. Lessons focused on how to read consumer labels for nutritional facts and how to identify deceptive advertising.
  • Observations suggested a deep level of student interest in trying new foods that promote body health. Appreciation of the foods prepared and tried was readily expressed openly by the vast majority of students and is perhaps the most persuasive piece of evidence in support of program impact. 
  • Given the curricular scaffolding of the FoodPrints program, which builds each year with reinforcement and content reviews, the greatest impact is likely to be realized longitudinally.
  • FoodPrints has impact beyond school. Findings from parent surveys suggests FoodPrints has had a positive impact on children’s knowledge of healthy foods and their willingness to eat healthy food at home; Interest in cooking nutritious food at home; and nutrition and cooking knowledge.

“Smells so good, so fresh,” offers a boy as the girl beside him pulls arugula from the stem.

- Watkins Elementary, May 26, 2016

“I love snap peas. They’re my favorite,” offers a kindergartener… “Look, peas!” screeches another boy. This is followed by an exuberant “purple carrots!” from a small girl sitting beside him.

- Francis Stevens, May 9, 2016

“Circling the answers didn’t seem to do justice for what a great program you all run. With a 3rd and 1st grade at Watkins and a pre-K -4 student at Peabody, we have had a lot of exposure to FoodPrints over the year. What has interested me is the longitudinal impact of the program. The curriculum builds on itself with each grade and the level of knowledge grows as well. I especially see that with my third grader. The language and respect you all have introduced around food has become an important and essential tool in our household. Nutrition and food choice is extremely important to us, and FoodPrints reinforces that approach in the school setting. It is common to hear ‘Don’t yuck my yums’ or for one of our kids to give a thumbs up/down/middle for a particular meal.”

- Parent survey response, which recognizes the cumulative impact of the FoodPrints program

By Ibti Vincent, FoodPrints Lead Teacher

Over the past year, I've had the pleasure of working with Karin Harrison, who in addition to being a fabulous special education teacher runs an after school club that attracts some of the most thoughtful and dynamic students at The School Without Walls at Francis-Stevens. Together, elementary and middle schoolers in the self-named Student Sustainability Corps have written (and won!) grants, presented at local conferences, built a retaining wall with community volunteers to ameliorate soil erosion in the front of the school, conducted bin surveys around the school and posted signs to improve recycling efforts throughout the building, and regularly helped me maintain the school's organic vegetable garden. How lucky am I to be a part of this school community and work with these smiling, conscientious young people?

Our connection is an also example of how our FoodPrints school garden extends to support after school and STEM-focused programming outside of FoodPrints classes.
The group also was responsible for constructing and installing a homemade chicken run for the laying hens that were housed at the school for a month this fall. The birds were pretty awesome, inspiring community goodwill and teaching urban kiddos about animal care, while also laying an egg a day and providing learning experiences for our FoodPrints classes.

Their efforts to improve our school community inspire me each day. Each Wednesday when I work with them, I wonder: how will they make me think, and make me smile, today? These students will no doubt go on to become leaders in their communities, to the benefit of us all.
Student Sustainability Corps members mulching and pruning kale in the Francis Stevens school garden