Hands-on learning in edible schoolyard, kitchen is a recipe for success

December 9, 2015

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How many children can say they attend a school that has an executive chef and sous chef? The students at Grimmway Academy can. Even though Grimmway Academy is located in the small rural community of Arvin in California's Central Valley, there's nothing small about the learning opportunities that this school's edible schoolyard provides. In fact, Grimmway Academy has achieved exceptional academic performance and consistently outperforms other Arvin elementary schools.

The hands-on learning happens in the edible schoolyard and the school's kitchen with a curriculum that integrates English language arts, math, science, and humanities. Grimmway Academy is a charter school that originally started serving students in kindergarten through 6th grade. Due to parent demand, the school added grade 7 this year and will add grade 8 next year.

"The staff is committed to digging deeper into the curriculum," said Grimmway parent and now kitchen educator Serena Martinez. "This is true hands-on learning, giving kids life skills."

Martinez made the decision early on to send her two children to Grimmway. She points to the strong parent involvement as a contributor to the school's success. Parent involvement is critical to student and school success with parents offering more than 30 volunteer hours each year.

"There is nothing more empowering than seeing the progress our students and families make together, through a focus on healthy eating and lifestyles," said Barbara Grimm-Marshall, president of the Grimm Family Education Foundation and founder of Grimmway Academy. "Our goal is to give our community a choice in education, with the knowledge that healthier choices translate into higher academic achievement and college-readiness." 

A popular program is the family cooking classes that fill up quickly, according to Martinez. Family cooking classes allow for the students to share what they learn in the kitchen with their families and to cook alongside each other.

"Kids light up when they see their parents in action," Martinez said. "Kids love it, parents love it - it creates a partnership between children and their parents in the kitchen."

Modeled after the original edible schoolyard at Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School in Berkeley, Grimmway's edible schoolyard allows students to develop an understanding and appreciation about the food they eat, while learning about life cycles, plant anatomy, and nutrition.

The Grimmway Café - led by an executive chef - provides a healthy breakfast, lunch, and snack each day. The café proudly serves local, natural, and organic foods with seasonal fresh fruit and vegetables. The café allows for hands-on learning in the kitchen classroom by three dedicated kitchen educators who also collaborate with the three garden educators and the classroom teachers.

The blended learning model - from the edible schoolyard to the kitchen and the classroom - reinforces concepts and allows students to apply their knowledge. The school uses a Learning Lab to empower students to work independently and take charge of their own learning. The Learning Lab gives students access to the latest technology and provides information to classroom teachers that helps drive instruction.

Combining a strong academic program with wellness and healthy lifestyle principles is proving to be a recipe for success for this school with 55 percent of their students designated as English Language Learners and 80 percent of students who qualify for free and reduced price meals.

"Grimmway is developing well-rounded students with strong life skills," Martinez said.