New program targets food insecurity among first-generation students

8 months 3 weeks 11 hours ago Friday, April 28 2017 Apr 28, 2017 Friday, April 28, 2017 1:06:00 PM CDT April 28, 2017 in News
By: Madeline Odle, KOMU 8 Reporter

COLUMBIA - A pilot program targeting food insecurity wrapped up at Rock Bridge High School Friday. The program, designed by two University of Missouri students, focused on high school students learning English as a second language. 

One of the program designers, Paula Herrera-Gudiño, said this population is generally more vulnerable to issues related to food insecurity, especially when it comes to education.

"Usually, when we think about food insecurity, we think these families literally don't have access to food, which is a big part of it," Herrera-Gudiño said. "But I think sometimes we don't think about food insecurity as a lack of food education."

The program takes the students to a farm and a grocery store to let them know what's healthy and where their food is coming from. It uses existing ELL curriculum, so it teaches the students about agriculture and skills while also teaching them what they need to know.

"So if we take younger adults and we start teaching them about this is where your food is coming from they'll start being more mindful about what they are eating," Herrera-Gudiño said. "Then we'll start teaching them these are the things that go into food that could potentially make it harmful for you, and they'll be conscious of that as well." 

The other student who designed the program, Maria Kalaitzandonakes, had worked in the Rock Bridge ELL classroom all through high school. She said even back then, the idea for the program was in the works, with guidance from the ELL teacher Lilia Ben-Ayed.

"Mrs. Ben-Ayed and I started coming up with all sorts of ideas," Kalaitzandonakes said. "One of them was that we wanted to add more practical learning in the classroom, to let student experience real world situations."

Kalaitzandonakes said, usually ELL students don't get the same hands-on learning experiences as other students because they have to spend more time on their core classes, since their language skills are lower. She said she has already seen the program start to make a difference. 

"They had a wonderful experience at the urban farm. They knew actually so many more names of fruits and vegetables in the ground than I thought they would," Kalaitzandonkaes said. "Our tour guide at the farm picked a radish out of the ground, and everyone was saying the names of the radish in their home languages. It was just a really cool experience to see everyone bonding over that." 

Ben-Ayed, said teaching those students is very special, and that they can bring something unique to the program as well. 

"I love teaching ELLs because of the experience they bring with them," Ben-Ayed said. "I have a very diverse group of students from different countries, and they bring a wealth of countries with them." 

Kalaitzandonkaes said they're hoping to roll out the program at other Columbia high school ELL programs by next school year. 

"We hope that any teacher could have access to our curriculum's that we have worked to create," she said. "This week is really a labor of love." 

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