Students wielding knives at North Haven High School are par for the course – Traci Planinshek‘s Culinary Arts course. She teaches food preparation and presentation skills to her Family and Consumer Sciences students and envisions them as future members of the local workforce, supporting a community’s economy, ancestral traditions and personal nutrition. This trifecta of impact materialized in the form of an FFT fellowship focused on F.L.O.S.S.
Two years ago Traci planted a small school garden to support a curriculum promoting fresh, local, organic, seasonable and sustainable food (FLOSS). Student engagement increased as they experimented with produce, herbs and spices associated with the area’s first inhabitants, the Quinnipac tribe. Inspired to take the learning one step further, Traci used a Fund for Teachers grant to explore historic culinary movements of the Pacific Northwest, including contributions of indigenous people in that region.
Traci worked alongside chefs at Tillicum Village, an island off of Seattle promoting British Columbia tribes, and visited organic dairies and gardens on Bainbridge Island in Puget Sound. From the lock system supporting salmon migration to fishmongers of Pike Market and food trucks in Occidental Park, Traci observed the farm-to-table movement in action. All of these experiences harvested hands-on learning for her students, who produced a community-wide luncheon in collaboration with surrounding farms and vegetables from the school garden. Funds raised from the event supported five students’ participation in Disney’s “Cook Around World” contest in Orlando, FL.
“On field trips to farms around North Haven, students negotiated the purchase of produce while witnessing the passion for what is, for many owners, decades of a family business,” said Traci. “Teenagers took responsibility for their own learning and developed an awareness of the required work ethic for this local citizenry.”
Even if students choose to pursue careers outside the food industry, Traci feels confident in their futures. She embeds literacy, numeracy skills, science – and now history and culture – into every lesson, giving students opportunities to develop critical thinking skills and cooperative learning capabilities sought out by employers.
“Having the financial support to follow something that I’m so passionate about was beyond words,” said Traci. “I feel that many times teachers are not validated, but this grant changed that for me and now I incorporate that energy into the daily curriculum — passing on that spirit and learning on to my students.”