Cooking the Common Core: Bringing Educational Standards to Life in the School Garden

When San Francisco voters passed the three phases of the Proposition A facilities upgrade bond in 2003, 2006, and 2011, they approved money to cover the design and construction of green schoolyards for at least 83 San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) elementary, middle, and high schools. SFUSD is the first urban school district to embrace outdoor learning opportunities in this fashion. It is also one of the first large districts in the state to implement the Common Core State Standards, a new set of English language arts and mathematics standards focused on real-world college and career readiness.

Seizing on this opportunity, I met with Rosie Branson Gill last fall to discuss how our organizations (San Francisco Green Schoolyard Alliance and 18 Reasons, respectively) could work together to provide more opportunities for San Francisco students to engage both in school gardens and with the craft of cooking. On February 17 of this year, 13 elementary classroom teachers, garden coordinators, and parents gathered for the launch of Cooking the Common Core: Bringing Educational Standards to Life in the School Garden, a new training series designed to do just that.

Cooking the Common Core offers teachers innovative, interdisciplinary lessons to help them teach the new standards. Rosie and I wanted to design a training that promoted cooking as a way to increase students’ access to and opportunities for learning in the outdoor classroom. We wanted teachers to feel empowered introducing students to the craft of cooking, to fresh ingredients, and to the full garden-to-table experience.

To that end, each lesson in Cooking the Common Core combines freshly harvested produce from the school garden, Common Core standards, and basic cooking skills, while leaving ample room for teachers to use the lessons to explore other classroom topics. Social studies, ecology, and respect for other cultures easily integrate into recipes such as fried rice, summer rolls, handmade pasta, or Brassica slaw.

Keeping in mind that public school educators are increasingly asked to do more with less, one of our priorities from the outset was to provide participating schools with outdoor cooking kits, in order to make the lessons as accessible as possible.  These kits include a Burton stove, fuel canisters, cutting boards, paring knives, mixing bowls, peelers, a box grater, tongs, serving utensils, a colander, and a dough scraper.  We have already heard back from participants in our first two trainings that the kits have allowed them to quickly and easily incorporate cooking into their teaching.

Rosie and I dream of writing lessons for every grade level linked to memorable meals from around the world. We are currently seeking sponsorship for the cooking kits so we can continue to offer the courses at a reduced fee for teachers and develop new lessons to meet the growing demand. When summer break rolls around in June, we will have provided cooking kits to and trained educators from 18 SFUSD schools, two nonprofits working with San Francisco youth populations, and one other school district in the East Bay.

Learn more about San Francisco Green Schoolyard Alliance, 18 Reasons, and Cooking the Common Core.