2017 Sustainability Institute for Educators

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The annual Sustainability Institute for Educators was held June 20-22 at Mary Institute of Country Day School (MICDS) – an annual Institute that allows educators to dive deeper into topics of sustainability and their schools. The Institute has a long tradition of helping to better prepare educators to understand the complex blend of the environmental, economic and social connections of our world in a way that builds stronger, greener classrooms and schools.

The focus of the 2017 Institute was food – a topic that all of us can connect to easily. With more than 5.5 billion lunches and nearly 2 billion breakfasts served yearly in school programs, food is deeply rooted as part of the school day. Those meals, along with complementary education programs, can have a profound effect on issues of public health, academic performance, economics, social justice, the environment, and community well-being for students.

Topics discussed during the Institute ranged from examining the processes needed to change the cafeteria landscape, to food waste and sustainable disposal, wellness and nutrition, schoolyard gardens, food policy & law and much more. During the first day of the Institute participants explored the idea of Rethinking School Lunch. Keynote speaker, Marney Coleman, jumpstarted the conversation as she shared her story of how one Chicago Public Charter school innovatively transformed their cafeteria landscape. As the Sustainability Coordinator for the Academy of Global Citizenship (AGC) Marney shared how the school’s holistic approach to education aimed at fostering systemic change and inspiring the way society educates our future generations included addressing the food served to students in the cafeteria. The school serves organic, scratch-made, nutritionally balanced and locally sourced meals. They celebrate "Meatless Mondays" and always have a vegetarian or vegan option. Through reusable products and composting, AGC runs a zero-waste food program.

Following Marney’s keynote, participants heard from a wide range of local examples in programs that explored sustainability and food. Speakers from organizations such as No Kid Hungry Missouri, Parkway School District, the Missouri Coalition of the Environment and more helped provide more insight into the complicated topic for the Institute. During the Institute, participants also heard directly from students about the food they eat in their schools, the impacts healthy, nutritional food has on them mentally and physically and more. Students from all over St. Louis City and County joined in on the Student Panel. Participants also heard from the people doing the serving as a panelist of food service providers gathered on Wednesday morning to share their insights, expertise and knowledge in changing the food systems in school environments.

Finally, to finish out the three-day Institute the participants boarded buses and headed out to discover local examples throughout St. Louis where food and sustainability connected. Field trips included stops at Urban Harvest’s Food Roof Farm in downtown St. Louis, a beautiful Gateway Greening school garden at Mallinckrodt Elementary, and a trip across the bridge to St. Louis Composting’s commercial composting facility.

While this year’s Institute may be over, planning is already underway for the 2018 SIE to be held June 19-21 at Mary Institute of Country Day School. The 2018 Institute will explore the idea of sustainable literacy: What does this mean for our students and the way we teach? How do we better prepare students for the skills needed to survive and thrive in the challenging conditions of the real-world and how do we, as educators, assess these concepts within the school environment?

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