Beth Bacon FRESHFARM Foodprints Testimony – Special Committee COVID-19 Recovery and COW Hearing: DC Ed After COVID-19 – May 26, 2021

Special Committee on COVID-19 Pandemic Recovery

and the

Committee of the Whole

Joint Public Oversight Hearing

The District’s Public Education System After the COVID-19 Pandemic

May 26, 2021

Thank you to the Charis for convening this hearing to examine critical education issues post-pandemic. My name is Beth Bacon. I am a Ward 6 resident, a former DCPS parent, and with FRESHFARM, a DC-based non-profit that operates producer-only farmers markets, pioneering food access, and FoodPrints, which embeds hands-on food education in DC public elementary schools through academically aligned culinary and garden-based learning. Over the past 12 years, FoodPrints has provided significant return on investment for the city in the areas of health, whole-child education, academic enrichment, and environmental literacy. 

We are here as one of the established partner organizations that State Board members Gasoi and Sutter referred to earlier as a key part of the pandemic recovery puzzle. Our model provides a feasible, evidence-based approach to addressing achievement and opportunity gaps that were only exacerbated by the pandemic. 

After many months of virtual classes with us, our students and families were instantly energized when they could return to classes in our school gardens this winter and spring. Principals supported our outdoor programming this school year as a safe source of in-person joyful social connection as their students returned to school. Next year, our focus will be on providing trauma-informed whole-child and science education in our school gardens based on our FoodPrints curriculum.

Our holistic model is in high demand. With adequate funding, we could almost double the number of partner schools we’re working with – from 15 to 25 – primarily in historically underserved areas of the city. Schools reach out to us with the goal of bringing rich experiences to their students in the pursuit of equity in access to new nutritious foods and learning how to prepare them and equity in access to real-world learning experiences in natural spaces on their school grounds. Principals are eager to partner because we provide: 

  • “healing” experiences with social-emotional learning,
  • rich experiences to their students in the pursuit of equity,
  • a focus on science and health, 
  • expanded outdoor education and use of underutilized outdoor spaces, and 
  • joy and excitement at school.

As this Special Committee sets forth guidance on Covid recovery, we offer three recommendations that many others have talked about in this hearing:  

1. Include school-nonprofit partnerships, including FoodPrints, that provide meaningful experiential learning during the school day as a priority strategy for closing gaps. We echo other’s calls to reimagine our learning spaces not only for Covid recovery but also to help schools become more nimble for new challenges that may arise.

2. Give schools and partners more freedom to access funding for experiential education partnerships – starting with the transparency and flexibility for the DCPS $9m innovation fund Ms. Gasoi talked about. From a partner perspective, schools need flexibility in selecting models; partners need time to plan (which means funding needs to be available very soon in order to be ready for students on Day 1 in August), and both would benefit from partners being able to apply directly for funds as a way to reduce the burden on school staff and increase flexibility of solutions. 

3. We support the call for an audit of opportunities and equity in this space and suggest looking at these questions: How can the pursuit of equity be a driver of innovation – not an obstacle to supporting creative approaches? How can the community be involved in decisions about federal American Recovery Plan funds – and how can the city ensure Recovery investments are sustained after the federal money is gone? Partner organizations, including FRESHFARM, are ready to collaborate in this conversation.

Thank you for your time today.

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