Making varsity, attending prom, getting into college or finding a job upon graduation … all things that many high school students spend time thinking about. We'd wager that very few of them also spend time thinking about where their food comes from, how nutritious it is, or how it got to their plate. Unless, that is, they happen to be a student at William Penn High School in New Castle, Delaware.
We joined Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester at the school to celebrate National Nutrition Month, and learn about its innovative farm-to-school program developed with support from two USDA Farm to School grants. Program curriculum is integrated into many of the school's 24 different tracks that students can take to build and enhance their future careers - from agriculture to culinary arts to finance.
During our tour we visited greenhouses with lettuce and herbs to be used in school meals and saw their koi fish production setup. The farm manager and several teachers also expressed their pride in and dedication to the program. A few agricultural program students shared their experiences with us. One student, Mikayla, spoke passionately about how the program is helping prepare her for a future as a veterinarian. Culinary arts students, who helped prepare a delicious lunch for us, spoke about the value of hands-on learning they are receiving.
The school also leases a section of adjacent Penn Farm. While the fields were still empty (it was March after all), we learned about the upcoming planting and harvesting plans, as well as the community outreach activities conducted by William Penn students from across the academic spectrum. Farm produce and other plants will be sold at the school's farm stands, which participate in FNS's Farmers Market Nutrition Program and Senior Farmers' Market Nutrition Program.
Our visit showed us the willingness and ability of students and their teachers to take on activities and topics beyond the typical teen subjects and, with the help of the USDA, embrace nutrition and agriculture as an integral part of their high school experience.