Seventh grade students focused on the issues of food waste and insecurity for their winter term service-learning project. The pandemic caused a spike in food insecurity as the estimated number of Americans experiencing food disruptions climbed from 35.2 million in 2019 to 45 million in 2020, according to a recent report from the non-profit Feeding America. Seventh graders learned about the current state of these issues from experts in the non-profit world and heard about their work to prevent and divert food waste. Then, they worked in small groups to brainstorm and design their own campaign or strategy to combat food insecurity and waste.
Fay’s service learning program teaches students how they can make a difference locally and in a global community. Service Learning Coordinator Craig Ferraro helped students make a personal connection to the issue of food insecurity by committing upfront to a “small win,” one behavioral change that they could make during the winter term that would make a difference. Some students chose to focus on saving leftovers from meals and not taking more food than they need, while others decided to spearhead a weekly food pantry donation in their home.
Students had the opportunity to meet with EcoFellows Ozette Ostrow and Jared Shein from the Center for EcoTechnology in Springfield, Mass. Ozette and Jared shared how their organization helps businesses and people reduce food waste. They talked about how many fresh fruits and vegetables are discarded during the distribution and sales process because of visual imperfections. They also educated students about the date labels they see on food, noting that 20% of food waste comes from consumers misunderstanding those labels. The next week, students met with Joel Simonson, a Development Officer with Lovin’ Spoonfuls, the largest food rescue organization in New England. Lovin’ Spoonfuls rescues 80,000 pounds of food per week that would otherwise be discarded for aesthetic reasons and delivers it to community organizations and programs like food pantries, shelters, and after-school programs.
Once students had learned about the issues of food distribution, waste, and insecurity, they broke into small groups of two or three within their homerooms. They brainstormed aspects of the problem that they could focus on, and once they had chosen an issue, they conducted further research within their small group. Students worked with their homeroom teachers and design teacher Andrew Shirley, who encouraged them to use the Fay design thinking process to find and define the problem and then brainstorm, evaluate and refine their solutions. “The kids tend to want to solve huge problems, and we encouraged them to avoid that,” says Andrew. “There’s a tension between what is achievable and what is going to have the greatest impact, and we want the kids to learn that dedicated small actions can actually make a real difference with an issue like food waste and insecurity.”
As students brainstormed possible solutions, they made pro and con lists to help them refine their thoughts. They were encouraged to keep “ideating” because sometimes it takes time to develop those original outside-the-box ideas. Once students had arrived at their idea, they created an Adobe Spark Site where they could assemble, refine, and communicate all their ideas and present them in an engaging and easy to navigate webpage format. The Spark Sites allowed students to collaborate even when distancing requirements had them at different tables. In fact, some groups had students in Southborough collaborating with classmates based on the other side of the world! “This process was a great opportunity for design thinking and innovation,” notes Craig as each group found their own way of working together, whether it was through a Google doc or Zoom.
After March break, Craig is hoping to put some of the projects on display using iPads located around the school. Students spent time in their homeroom reflecting on the process and sharing what they learned. “We focus on empathy, purpose, and connection in our service-learning work,” says Craig, “and I’m curious to see which of those stood out for students in this experience and what future projects and passions may have been sparked by this work.”
Here are three samples of seventh grade student work on food waste and insecurity from the winter term.