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Staff at Queens, NYC School Discuss How They Encouraged Plant-Based Eating

By Mickey Kudia

P.S. 151 was a recent participant in HEART’s Compassionate Communities Awards (CCA) Program in Queens elementary school district 30 in New York City this past spring.  For our 2022 CCA contest, participating schools had to demonstrate how they incorporated the theme of food justice into their lessons and activities to help build a kinder school community.  

As part of their presentation at the CCA ceremony this past June, the teachers and students from P.S. 151 explained that their school encouraged plant-based eating — which contributes to better health for all – as a way to help advance food justice. The school’s guidance counselor, Vicky Fernandez, and parent coordinator, Naida Ryans, spoke with us about why they highlighted their plant-based eating program for the contest.

According to Ryans, a vital component of this program was the school’s partnership with a nonprofit called Brighter Bites to promote plant-based foods and care for the needs of school community members. Through this partnership, students and their families received fresh fruits and vegetables for free, which was especially helpful for those experiencing food insecurity. 

“We’re able to give food to families of our school and we thought it would be a good idea for the Compassionate Communities Awards Program,” added Ryans. 

Students also learned how to prepare the fruits and vegetables. They were given recipes that featured these items and practiced making them in class.  

They learned about the importance of eating plant-based foods and explored some of these foods in depth. For example, said Ryans, they would have a “cauliflower day” when they would learn about that vegetable and the different ways of preparing it.

Students and their parents also took on active roles in the program. Third- and fourth-grade students were selected to be leaders and helped to distribute the food. Parents joined students for the cooking lessons, so they could learn how to make the recipes as well.

Ryans said that the key thing students learned was how important it is that there are services providing healthy food to the community. “We thought that it would give them a better understanding of their compassionate side,” said Ryans.

P.S. 151 won the 2022 CCA program’s $500 Food Justice Hero Award. The prize money will be used to revitalize the school’s garden, add bird feeders, and provide items to the nearby Woodside Community Fridge.

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