In their August/September issue, Scholastic Parent & Child Magazine selected Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School as one of the “25 Coolest Schools in America.”
The magazine’s annual list highlights schools with innovative approaches to making education more relevant, challenging and motivating. Other selected schools on the list include a New York elementary school with a natural playground to promote health and exercise and a middle school in Hawaii that runs its own statewide news network.
King Middle School won the honor for its nonprocessed, organic and high-quality lunch menus cooked with many ingredients from the school’s own garden, in which students raise and harvest healthy vegetables.
The school’s unique healthy food curriculum began when Chez Panisse owner and activist Alice Waters founded the Edible Schoolyard project in 1995. What began as an experiment has grown into a full-fledged program, formally embedded into the school curriculum.
“It is really exciting to be honored as one of the top 25 coolest schools in America. To see an innovative lunch program get recognized by the magazine and the academic community is really special,” said Kyle Cornforth, director of Edible Schoolyard.
Quantitative research has proven the positive impact of the program. The Atkins Center for Weight and Health at UC Berkeley followed 240 students at the school from 2006 to 2009 and found that students who had participated in Edible Schoolyard project demonstrated healthier eating habits and better knowledge of nutrition.
The Edible Schoolyard program has also had a positive psychological impact on students, school administrators said.
“There has not been formal research, but many anecdotes affirm that student behavior has greatly improved, as did the sense of community among students,” said eighth grade counselor at King Middle School Mercedes Sanders.
The Scholastic Parent & Child Magazine lauded parents’ persistence in trying to change the lunch menu. Parents began the School Lunch Initiative in 2004 and have implemented a low-sodium, organic diet, with emphasis on using the best-quality ingredients possible.
“We have a lot of parents who volunteer to help out,” said Christine Staples, president of the school’s PTA. “It is more costly to craft healthier meals and have them be things kids like at the same time. Yet kids get introduced to flavors that they wouldn’t have had.”
The influence of the Edible Schoolyard project has spread outside the school, into the world.
“We recently launched a new website, and the site is a networking and resource-sharing tool for parents, teachers and advocates in the realm of education across the world,” Cornforth said. “This will have a global impact.”