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Science teacher Veronica Ledoux's work with Teachers Across Borders South Africa

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Upper School science teacher Veronica Ledoux volunteered this summer for Teachers Across Borders South Africa, working for three weeks with 200 South African math and science teachers from rural schools to help update their skills. South Africa has identified the teaching and learning of math and science as national priorities.

Project founder Yunus Peer praised Veronica for her contributions, noting that she is personable, professional, and passionate about her work. "She made a positive difference for teachers who did not have the same academic experience that we are privileged to in the United States," he wrote to Catlin Gabel head Lark Palma.

"As institutions of higher learning, with such talented faculty, I believe the least we can do is share the knowledge we have about our profession with colleagues in the developing world who so desperately need help with content, methodology and the pedagogy of the subjects they teach, under the most challenging conditions," wrote Yunus. "I know that Veronica's presentation will inspire your faculty with the possibilities of service that advantaged private schools like ours can undertake, and by example, will highlight the values we want our students to embrace, too."

Focus on Giving: Tuition on the Track

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Launching a tradition for financial aid

From the Summer 2012 Caller

Tuition on the Track represents the essence of Catlin Gabel’s mission: inspired learning leading to responsible action. What began as a single student’s idea became a successful event bringing together multigenerations to raise money for financial aid.
 
The walkathon notion originated as Kate Rubinstein ’12’s “agents of change” paper for her junior English class in 2011. A lifer, Kate fondly remembered everyone working together at the Rummage Sale for a common cause: raising money for financial aid. She understood why the Rummage Sale was not sustainable—too few volunteers, too much time and effort, lagging sales—but wanted future students to have a similar experience. Kate, Brooke Edelson ’12, and a great committee of seniors persuaded their classmates to make the Tuition on the Track effort their senior gift to the school and organized every aspect of the event.
 
“Our dream is for Tuition on the Track to become an annual tradition that makes it possible for students who could not otherwise attend Catlin Gabel to benefit from the exceptional academic and social experience our class has enjoyed together,” say Kate and Brooke. The April 12, 2012, event surpassed the $25,000 goal, raising $50,000! Best of all, students and teachers from across the school came together for an afternoon of walking, skipping, and sprinting. The feeling of doing something good together was as empowering for 1st graders as it was for seniors.
 
Kate envisioned raising enough money to say “yes” to one student who needed a scholarship to attend Catlin Gabel—but their tremendous effort will allow us to admit more than one exceptional student next year. As just one example, this spring we enrolled a 9th grader who has exceptional academic talent, plays two sports, and is known by his peers as a quiet and respected leader. He sought a school where his classmates were passionate about learning and his teachers would truly know him. And we were proud to be able to offer financial aid to this student who will add immensely to our community.
 
Students have selected a handful of juniors to ensure a second Tuition on the Track success in 2013. Alumni and parents are excited about joining future walkathons. The baton has been passed, and a tradition is launched!
 
Be a part of this inspiring philanthropic effort and continuum of giving back by contributing to Tuition on the Track. To make a gift, go online to www.catlin. edu/giving or call 503-297-1894 ext. 310.  

 

Catlin Gabel News, Summer 2012

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From the Summer 2012 Caller

NEWS FROM HONEY HOLLOW

Catlin Gabel was one of 78 schools in the U.S. to win a first-ever Green Ribbon from the U.S. Dept. of Education. CGS’s efforts in sustainability have grown towards a goal of zero waste, and environmental stewardship and education runs through the school’s curriculum. . . . Dan Griffiths (right), assistant US head of school and dean of students, was named the next US head. Head of school Lark Palma called Dan “a skilled and visionary leader, energetic advocate for students, persuasive public speaker, innovative teacher, and superb colleague.”. . . . Creative writing teacher Carl Adamschick won the award for poetry at the Oregon Book Awards for his book Curses and Wishes. . . . Carol Ponganis, 6th grade math teacher, won a full scholarship to attend Space Academy this summer in Huntsville, Alabama. . . . The first Hand to Hand donation event, sponsored by the Catlin Gabel Service Corps, brought in great goods for our nonprofit partners and captured the giving spirit of the community. Watch for it next year.
 

FUNDRAISING SUCCESSES

Thanks to all for a great Portland-themed auction in March! The event grossed more than $394,000 for faculty-staff professional development and student financial aid. . . .The Collins Foundation granted $200,000 to Catlin Gabel towards the Creative Arts Center, bringing the school closer to its groundbreaking goal. . . .The student-initiated Tuition on the Track walkathon fundraiser for financial aid raised $50,000, led by organizers Kate Rubinstein ’12, Brooke Edelson ’12, and the class of 2012.
 
A volunteer at the first Hand to Hand event
 
 
 
 
 

STUDENT KUDOS

Ilana Cohen ’12, Holly Kim ’12, and Dylan Shields ’12 won National Merit Scholarships, giving them each a $2,500 scholarship. . . . The 1540 Flaming Chickens robotics team won the field competition and the highest award at regionals. At the international competition Marina Dimitrov ’13 was one of 10 worldwide Dean’s List winners. . . . A parody of Ralph Waldo Emerson by Mira Hayward ’13 was published in the online literary journal McSweeney’s. . . .Violeta Alvarez ’15 chaired the citywide youth summit against violence in April. She and her sister, Perla Alvarez ’13, are active members of the Multnomah Youth Commission. . . . Two Mock Trial teams competed at State, a first for Catlin Gabel.
 

STUDENTS SHINING IN SCIENCES

Terrance Sun ’13 and Valerie Ding ’15 were finalists at the Intel International Science Fair in Pittsburgh. Valerie won a 4th award and was one of 12 students to win a trip to CERN in Geneva, Switzerland. Valerie also won silver at the International Sustainable World Project Olympiad in the energy category for her project on white-light LEDs. . . . Lawrence Sun ’14 made the U.S. Physics Team, one of 20 nationwide now eligible to go on to Internationals. . . . The first-ever US Science Olympiad team won the dynamic planet and water quality events at the state competition, and the MS team placed second in state.
 

ATHLETICS

Chris Skrapits, assistant coach for track & field and cross country (and the 8th grade science teacher) was named Oregon assistant coach of the year in all sports. . . . Mariah Morton ’12 won the state track & field championship in both long and triple jump. She and Adele English ’15, Cammy Edwards ’12, Talia Quatraro ’15, Fiona Noonan ’13, and Gabby Bishop ’14 are champions in the 4 X 400 relay. The girls track & field team, the boys tennis team, and the boys golf team all came in 2nd in state. . . . Cammy Edwards ’12 broke the school record for hurdles at 45.65 seconds, and Siobhan Furnary ’13 did the same for pole vault at 7 feet.   
 

 

Educational consultant Derrick Gay led a Diversity Conference Workshop about race and a staff and faculty training in diversity

 

 

 

 

 

Novelist Adam Johnson visited CGS as a Jean Vollum Distinguished Writer. He said Catlin Gabel is "dreamy and fantastic."

 

Finding Solutions to Food Insecurity in Portland

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Students in the PLACE program have made a change in outer southeast Portland

From the Summer 2012 Caller

By George Zaninovich

At Catlin Gabel, we encourage students to use their education to influence the world around them, but how often do they actually witness their work come to fruition as tangible community improvement? In the spring of 2010, students in the school’s PLACE (Planning and Leadership Across City Environments) urban studies program worked alongside Portland State University graduate students for nonprofit Zenger Farm and the city’s Bureau of Environmental Services to improve food insecurity issues in outer southeast Portland. Two years later, their work is being implemented.
 
PLACE students were part of a team assigned to create a site design for four acres of grassland near SE 117th and Foster acquired in 2010 by the Friends of Zenger Farm. At that time, it was a field where neighbors walked their dogs and the homeless took refuge under the bushes. The Catlin Gabel students sought to get the local youth perspective on food security and future uses of the lot, which they achieved by implementing surveys and focus groups, and leading public meetings.
 
According to the USDA, “Food insecurity is strongly associated with household income. It is, by definition, a condition that arises from a lack of enough income and other resources for food.“ For the first time ever, the Oregon Food Bank Network distributed more than 1 million emergency food boxes in one year, with 33 percent of recipients being children. The PLACE students found that seven percent of the survey respondents in the neighborhoods they studied never have enough food.
 
“The Zenger project humanized school work,” says Lizzie Medford ’12, one of the project leaders. “It was so powerful to meet and talk with children and then later see on their survey responses that they weren’t getting enough food—especially after hearing on the news and during assemblies about how many people in Portland aren’t getting enough to eat.”
 
Our students learned that youth in the Zenger Farm neighborhood not only wanted to eat more healthy food in greater quantities, but they also showed a strong preference for learning how to grow and preserve their own food. As a result, the PLACE group wrote a plan called “3 Ps: Produce, Prepare, and Preserve Food” that included recommendations to help Zenger use the site to reduce food insecurity in the neighborhood. The students created a design for the four acres and presented their recommendations to community members at PSU.
 
“It was encouraging to see how excited the neighborhood youth were to grow their own food and take a stand about healthy eating,” says Lizzie. “The kids knew the value of growing their food but just didn’t have the resources to live out their desires of self-sufficiency.”
 
Work on the site began last year. Our students visited and were pleased to see that many of their recommendations had come to fruition. Thanks to the additional field space, Zenger Farm has launched one of the first community supported agriculture programs in Oregon that accepts food stamps, and has provided community garden plots in a neighborhood that sorely needs them.
 
“I hadn’t gotten this involved in making a difference about food insecurity ever before,” says Lizzie. “This project gave me perspective on food production and how to feed a hungry world through empowerment and education.”
 
George Zaninovich has headed up Catlin Gabel’s PLACE program since 2009. He also teaches freshman history, an urban studies course for the Global Online Academy, and a project-based public health course in collaboration with the science department.
 
Thanks to Lizzie Medford ’12 for her contributions to this article.  

 

 

Environmental Science and Policy: Real-World Learning

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Students in this interdisciplinary class learn facts--and how to cope with complexity and ambiguity

From the Summer 2012 Caller

By Andrea Michalowsky '12

Catlin Gabel prides itself on being green. We recycle, compost, and emphasize environmentalism in the elementary and middle school curricula. We even have goats roaming the campus to help with landscaping. Surrounded by all this sustainability, I considered myself environmentally conscious and aware of ecological concerns. However, my Environmental Science and Policy classes reminded me of just how little I know and how much there is for me to still learn. More importantly, they showed me the nuances, the importance of understanding issues fully, and how to gather the information necessary to form my own opinion.
 
Peter Shulman and Dan Griffiths began this interdisciplinary class in 2007. Peter, an experienced history teacher who had previously founded the PLACE urban studies program, presented the idea to Dan as an opportunity for students to understand both the politics and facts behind current affairs. Dan, a science teacher and biologist, saw the material as an opportunity for students to better understand the importance of science in current affairs.
 
Originally, the classes were linked, and the teachers sat in on each other’s classes. This year, however, they were separated for the first time, allowing students to take one of the classes without the other. Moreover, the Environmental Policy class ran for only one semester, complemented by a class on oil in the Middle East. These alterations not only gave the students more freedom in choosing classes, but also gave the teachers more freedom in choosing specific topics. Dan included a unit on truth and recognizing biases in articles. Peter further explored oil, currently a particularly pressing issue in regards to the environment. Even as the program evolved, it maintained its founding ideals and emphasis on experiential learning.
 
On the first day of Environmental Science, Dan told us that he intended to run the class as he would a college class. He expected us to lead our own learning. As such, one of the major projects of the year was a plant lab that was formulated by the students. Dan provided the plants and the nutrient formulas (we were studying the effects of nutrient deficiencies), but we had to create the procedures. We spent several class periods sitting around the U of desks discussing what should and should not be measured on the plants. The conversation went back and forth among the 17-person class. We often ended with the sense that nothing had been accomplished. The process was slow. In retrospect, I realize just how much I learned during those debates. They taught me the importance of listening, how to work with a group, and the necessity for patience. Moving forward with the lab and editing the procedure as it progressed, I also learned the evolutionary nature of experiments. This was a new aspect of science for me, a transition away from the traditional classroom labs. It provided a real-world applicability that had been lacking before.
 
This real-world applicability was matched by a real-world foundation. Both classes took field trips, seeing the issues in action. Environmental Policy took a tour of New Seasons Market as a model of a business that emphasizes local and sustainable products. During the genetically modified plant unit, Environmental Science visited Oregon Tilth and a genetic modification lab at Oregon State University. At OSU, one of the professors presented his argument for the necessity and naturalness of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The farmers working at Oregon Tilth objected to the superficiality of this solution and called for natural processes. Visiting the lab and the farm, we were able to see both sides of the debate in the real world. We then used this information, along with an extensive list of resources provided by Dan, to craft scientific essays for or against GMOs. However, the essays meant little compared to the field trips. Seeing the issues out in the world provided a grounding that could never be attained in the classroom.
 
We not only saw current issues in action, but also did projects to address them. We spent the last month of Environmental Science helping the rest of the school community with various environmental issues. The class divided into groups that addressed anything from curriculum for the Lower or Middle School to the best way to improve the greenhouse at the school in Ecuador that students will visit this summer. These projects required communication both within the groups and with the adult clients. Working with the adults to achieve a mutual goal made our projects more immediate. It was also like working for someone, further preparing us for the outside world.
 
In addition to teaching us life skills, these experiences provided the foundation for a full understanding of issues—and the recognition of the necessity for this understanding. Another project in Environmental Science consisted of a formal debate about nuclear power. We were split into a pro team and a con team and then did the research to support our arguments. We presented these arguments to the class and a panel of judges (Dan, outdoor education director Peter Green, and science teacher Aline Garcia-Rubio). Aside from the public speaking experience, we learned the nuances of the argument. In the end, the debate was tied; neither team came out as the obvious victor. This reflected my sentiment and that of most of my classmates: we don’t know definitively if nuclear power is good or bad. Although we remain unsure about the conclusion, we now better understand the issue. This understanding of the gray area revealed more than a decisive conclusion ever could. Not only did we see both sides, but we also recognized the importance of seeing both sides: the information became more important than the conclusion.
 
This full understanding and so many other aspects of this program left a lasting impact on students. On the first day of class, Dan had us each say why we were in the class and what we hoped to learn. On the final day, we discussed what we had learned, and if our opinions had changed. The vast majority of students agreed that we were now less sure of our standing on issues such as nuclear power but valued our greater understanding of the issues. We felt prepared to talk about the issues as informed citizens.
 
As Dan had promised, the class also prepared us for college. Sabin Ray ’11, who took the class last year and subsequently enrolled in an environmental studies class at Brown University, said that she arrived at college already informed about many of the issues that came up. The big, open-ended papers and labs Dan and Peter assigned prepared her and all of us for college-level courses. Beyond college, the classes taught us about learning in any capacity and working on projects and in groups. They provided life lessons that will be useful whether or not we go into environmentalism.
 
Catlin Gabel teaches us to be green, but more importantly it teaches us to be active learners and thinkers. Likewise, Environmental Science and Policy informed us about current issues, but more importantly taught us how to learn and form our own opinions.
 
Andrea Michalowsky ’12 will attend the writing seminars program at Johns Hopkins University this fall. She was the chief editor of the Catlin Gabel literary magazine, Pegasus.  

 

The Public Pediatrician

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Dr. Don Shifrin '66 speaks for children's health

From the Summer 2012 Caller

By Nadine Fiedler

In the cacophony of voices giving endless and often contradictory advice to parents, that of Don Shifrin ’66 stands out. For decades Don has been the steady, calm, informed voice of reason representing the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). He has earned a place in the national media as a premier advocate for children’s wellness, weighing in on a huge variety of topics—from obesity and nutrition, to children’s use of media, to safety and medical issues. His expertise draws from a deep well of experience: his 34 years as a beloved and award-winning pediatrician in private practice in Bellevue, Washington.
 
“Pediatrics is all about communication, about teaching families,” he says. His overriding mission: “Consider what kids need, which is often not what parents realize.”
 
For 13 years, Don has recorded a radio program that runs twice a day on CBS Newsradio in Chicago called “A Minute for Kids,” also available on HealthyChildren. org. He has testified in Congress as a spokesperson for the AAP. He has served on and led the AAP councils on media, communications, and childhood obesity. Don has appeared as an expert on national networks and in many periodicals including the New York Times, Wall St. Journal, Time, and Newsweek. His first encounter with the media was a bit of a disaster, though, and he learned a big lesson from it.
 
When Don realized in the mid 1970s that car accidents were the biggest killers of children, he gave the first lecture on auto restraint safety systems, and proselytized for years to change the laws in Washington State. People were angry about the possibility of being required to use any form of restraint: they felt safe holding their kids. During one of his testimonies, a reporter asked him how he felt about always coming back and not getting anything from the legislature. “There are only two reasons people won’t use safety restraints,” Don said. “One, they don’t see the need. Two, they’re stupid.” Predictably, the headline the next morning was “Pediatrician calls parents stupid.”
 
Lesson learned, Don sought out the medical reporter at the Seattle Times, resulting in an article and a TV program about the worth of restraints. “The light bulb went off for me with this media coverage. I thought, ‘I can reach more people in one minute on TV than in five years in an office.’ So we must make media our friends and collaborators. Let’s tell them what’s medically appropriate for kids,” he said.
 
Don was first taken with the idea of a life devoted to the good of children when he was a child himself in Portland, and adored his pediatrician, the legendary Dr. Benward. Don’s father was a Russian immigrant— a salesman—and his mother was of Austrian descent. They both planned for him to become a doctor. After earning his B.S. at the University of Washington, Don went to Georgetown University Medical School, and then did a residency and chief residency at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles during the golden age of pediatric mentors there.
 
Pediatrics is dauntingly complex, a dense specialty due to the tremendous variation of ages and stages from toddlers to teens—so the work held Don’s interest. He felt that the field was a tremendous opportunity for him: “Kids are a tabula rasa. Most kids don’t want to be sick; they want to get well. So they are compliant. If you do the right things and make the right diagnoses, things usually can go pretty well,” he says. “In most cases you are able to make a significant difference in the life of a child. That’s the great joy of pediatrics. You see youngsters from a young age through all their physical, mental, emotional, and social changes and can be a resource as well as a caregiver.”
 
Childhood obesity is one of the concerns Don deals with in his office as well as in the media. “You must have sensitive antennae as a pediatrician. If you don’t notice and ask about a health concern, you won’t be able to initiate a discussion,” he says. He measures body-mass index and looks at family factors, such as what and how much they eat and snack. When he talks to children and families about foods, he describes them as healthy or unhealthy: not “bad” or “good.” He talks to parents about small, measurable changes, because big changes are difficult for kids: a bagel cut in three pieces instead of two, chocolate milk once a day instead of twice. He speaks to children in a way they can understand: a can of soda pop equals a glass filled with 10 ½ teaspoons of sugar. “A pediatrician is a health translator,” he says. “We engage caregivers in this dance, and it is a dance, about how they can participate in their child’s health.”
 
“Kids walk through their parents to get to the world,” he says. “Can we give them the right opportunities?” He speaks to parents about how they affect their children using what he calls Dr. Don’s 4M Method:
 
1. Model the behavior you want your children to achieve. (Use your napkin, be polite, don’t smoke, be active.)
 
2. Mentor that behavior, teach that behavior. Kids have big eyes and big ears. (Did you notice that I held the door open? Did you see that I didn’t say a bad word back there?)
 
3. Monitor closely to see if the behavior is being done.
 
4. Mediate to change behaviors. Parenting is a slow, time-intensive process. It’s like a cruise ship: it takes a while for it to reconfigure its course. You have to mediate with your children in a slow, steady, consistent, calm way. Kids stop listening if you yell. Remaining calm and in control, and trying to achieve balance, is the key.
 
Don gives credit to Catlin Gabel for best preparing him for his life and career. “My best education—considering my college, medical school, and residency—was still my elementary and high school education at Catlin Gabel,” he says. “My teachers didn’t just teach: they took it on themselves to make me better and help me learn. Every time I give a talk I remember Schauff [former head Manvel Schauffler] by putting words into language everyone can understand.”
 
The American Academy of Pediatrics honored Don for his work in 2009 with its Holroyd-Sherry Award, in recognition of his national impact in talking about kids and media, and forming policy that has national implications. Don is proud of that award, as well as his charitable work. He received an award in 2000 from Seattle Family Services for his work as medical advisor on its Children Grieve project. His biggest satisfaction, however, lies in his daily work.
 
“Pediatrics is like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates. It’s one thing one moment from toddlers to teens, and another thing the next,” he says. “But with great challenges come great rewards. You can try to help everybody, but you don’t have a magic wand. What you can do is to make small changes that will build lifelong habits. Pediatrics is not just about helping the sick get well. It’s about working together with families every day to identify better ways to improve the health of their children.”
 
Nadine Fiedler is editor of the Caller and Catlin Gabel’s publications and public relations director.

 

The Big Green Center of Campus

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The Barn keeps everyone happy and nourished

From the Summer 2012 Caller

By Nadine Fiedler

Enter Catlin Gabel’s big green Barn at the start of lunchtime, and here’s what you’ll see. Hundreds of students line up, talking and laughing, to order the day’s hot entrée—which might be Phnom Penh rice noodle soup, vegetable or ham panini, quesadillas, grilled fish or tofu, stuffed poblano peppers, or a host of other tasty and healthful dishes. Others rush for the salad bar, stocked with brilliant greens from a local farm, veggies picked just hours before from the school garden, and beautifully prepared grain and vegetable salads. Teachers and staff members sit together at one of the many round tables, eating their lunches and catching up on what’s going on around campus, surrounded by tables of students. It’s a loud and lively place, centered on the Barn’s fresh, local, nutritious, irresistible offerings.
 

It’s A Whole New World of Food at Catlin Gabel.

The revolution began in the summer of 2006, when Hen Truong joined the staff as food services director. The food service until then had been loving and attentive, but it was time for Catlin Gabel to catch up with advances in food and nutrition to best serve its 740 students and their growing bodies and brains. Hen’s background as a member of a restaurant family, a graduate of the Western Culinary Institute, and a fast-rising young manager of food services at colleges and universities made him a perfect candidate to renovate the Barn’s approach.
 

A Necessary Diversion: Who’s Hen?

It’s almost impossible to talk about how the Barn has changed without talking about Hen Truong, and what motivates him so strongly. His determination has driven all the changes the school has made over the past six years, and will continue as he fulfills his vision.
 
Hen lived in Cambodia until age 3, the son of a Chinese restaurateur father and a Chinese-Cambodian mother. When the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia began their relentless genocide in the country’s “Killing Fields,” Hen’s family escaped to Vietnam amidst great hardship, starvation, and chaos. They were rescued by a boat captain whom his father had adopted as an orphan years earlier, but had not seen for a long time. The family lived in Vietnam until Hen was 7, when they had to flee again because Hen’s brother and sister were about to be conscripted into the army— which meant a life expectancy of a few months at best. After secretly arranging transit, paid with gold, they walked right out of his father’s restaurant during lunchtime into a rainy afternoon with nothing but what they had on. They lived in a crawl space in a safe house in Saigon for three weeks, then boarded a boat that took them to Thailand—and to three years of refugee camps there and in the Philippines, Hong Kong, and Singapore.
 
Hen’s father made and sold steamed buns in the camps. “Life there made me realize what not having material wealth feels like, and what hunger feels like,” says Hen. He was surrounded by people from many Southeast Asian cultures, and remembers playing with kids speaking a bewildering number of languages. Finally they located an aunt in San Antonio, Texas, who sponsored their immigration. Hen began his life in the U.S. at age 10 in cold, wintry Texas, speaking no English, in a new school. He learned the language quickly, thanks to an ESL teacher who devoted extra time to his education.
 
After two years in Texas, the family moved to Oklahoma City for another two years, then moved to Portland. Hen’s father opened the East Restaurant in north Portland, and the whole family chipped in and worked. Hen yearned to be a cook there, propelled by his admiration of Pat Transue, his 9th grade home economics teacher at Jefferson High School. “I did a lot of whining before my dad let me cook at East Restaurant. He wanted me to be more than a cook,” says Hen. Mrs. Transue, touched by Hen’s desire to become a chef, helped Hen enroll at the culinary institute.
 
After receiving a thorough grounding in the culinary arts, Hen decided to go to college to learn more about business, so he could run a restaurant. He enrolled in Concordia University and met another influential mentor: Robert Bjorngriebe, the head of the food service. Robert was doing what Hen was later charged with at Catlin Gabel: revving up a food service that had stayed the same for many years. Robert took Hen under his wing, hired him to work in the dining hall and kitchen, and taught him everything from catering to how to conduct oneself as a chef. Hen was also attending classes full time, and working at East Restaurant on weekends. Although Hen was set on going to a big city to become “the next Wolfgang Puck or something,” Robert convinced him that school food service was a sane career that would allow him to have a family life. After graduating from Concordia and completing several internships, Hen stumbled into a food service job at Oregon State University in Corvallis—by commenting about the food when he was visiting a friend there.
 
With OSU’s director, Richard Turnbull, Hen oversaw a huge project: the complete renovation of OSU’s dining services and construction of a new dining hall. As general manager he learned how to motivate staff people, and how to have them take pride in their food. He managed a new concept in food service, with seven restaurants for different food concepts, such as deli, coffee shop, grill, and Italian food. It was a huge success.
 
After 10 years there, Hen yearned to direct a dining program and move back to Portland to be nearer to his parents. He worked briefly for a food contract service at a small college in Portland, but didn’t like the politics of serving two masters, the contract service and the school, and their vastly different goals.
 
Hen and his brother set out to open their own restaurant, and that was the plan—until the summer of 2006, when a friend told him about the job at Catlin Gabel, which was similar to what Hen had done so well at OSU. Hen interviewed, just to keep his skills sharp, but says the unexpected happened: “The minute I stepped on the beautiful campus I felt great. I met with the committee, and I went from ‘I’m not in’ to ‘Please hire me. I can do a lot for you!’” And he has, in these six years since.
 

Hen’s Philosophy

“My philosophy is simple. I want to create good, fresh, seasonal, and thoughtful food, so that customers find value in it. Food service is my passion. Every hour of the day I plot and plan how to improve it and make it better. I feel vested in Catlin Gabel. I save us money wherever I can and do things as economically as possible. It’s very powerful for me to know I get support from the faculty-staff, students, and parents. It drives me to do more personally. I want to do everything.”
 

Changing the Status Quo

After meeting with retired food service director Terry Turcotte, Hen spent the summer of 2006 figuring out what he could do to make the system more efficient. In a whirlwind of activity, he met with vendors to find the most healthful food and consolidated them to keep traffic down and the quality high, centralized the ordering of coffee for all offices, and created a regulation commercial kitchen. He rewrote the menu to do as much seasonal, from scratch, local, and fresh cooking as possible. He met with staff members, divided up responsibilities, and hired more people. By the time school started that fall, the Barn was already radically changed. “Although there’s still a lot more to do,” says Hen.
 

The Barn’s Daily Work

Hen’s core crew is made up of kitchen supervisor Sara Gallagher; Robin Grimm, in charge of front of house; Chris Sommer, salads; Yuri Newton, deli and grab-and-go; kitchen help Woming Chen; and dishwasher Jonathan Sarenana-Belten. Hen is always interested in furthering their skills with cross-training and classes. “The way the staff works so hard drives me to work harder,” he says.
 
Every day the Barn feeds 400 to 450 kids, with about 350 eating hot lunches, plus around 50 adults. The students’ dietary restrictions are a big focus for the Barn crew. Every meal includes gluten-free foods and vegetarian or vegan options. They accommodate children with nut and dairy allergies, and they try to use less sodium and as much organic food as possible.
 
When Hen first came to Catlin Gabel, every office did outside catering, which meant paying premium prices. Hen offered to do all the school’s catering, reducing costs significantly. Anyone on campus can place a catering order, from two to hundreds of eaters, and the Barn now does 99 percent of the school’s catering. The cost for food is much less, and the food is much fresher.
 
The Barn crew produces food for special events, such as commencement, Spring Festival, and alumni Homecoming weekend. They’ve taken on providing food for field trips, to relieve teachers and parent volunteers, packing food and supplies for cooking. Hen also does on-campus cooking demos, and offers special dinners as school auction items.
 

The Sustainability Loop

Hen works with teacher Carter Latendresse, head of the school garden, to figure out what to grow that can be used in Barn meals. Carter sends email to Hen when a vegetable crop is ripe, and they go up the hill, harvest the vegetables, and use them quickly in the Barn. All food scraps, including those from diners’ plates, go into buckets, which go right back into the garden, when they’re ready, as compost. “You can’t get more sustainable than that,” says Hen.
 

The Future

In the drive to use as much local and seasonal food as possible, the Barn received a grant to buy dehydrators, a greenhouse, and a juicer, all of which will extend the usable life of produce into the cold-weather months. Hen is excited about being able to offer fresh fruit and vegetable juice blends. Given Hen’s motivation and drive, we can expect the Barn to improve and keep surprising its happy customers. “I want to continue sourcing new products and support other departmental programs. I want to continue to provide a place where people can come to collaborate, a social place, a place to talk over food or coffee,” says Hen. “Mostly, I want to continue to encourage and excite people about food.”
 
 

A Recipe from Hen

Quinoa, Roasted Beet, and Walnut Salad 

Ingredients for 4 servings
3–4 medium beets, washed
1 C. dry quinoa
2 C. water
1/2 C. toasted walnuts
2–3 cloves crushed garlic
Zest and juice of one lemon
2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1/4 C. extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp. dijon mustard
1 tsp. sugar
1/3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
 
Procedures
Preheat oven to 425 F. Wrap beets in foil and bake until tender, about 45 min. to an hour. Let cool, then peel off the skins and cut into 3/4 inch cubes. Set aside
 
Bring water to boil in a small heavy saucepan. Rinse quinoa well and add to water. Return to boil, then reduce heat to low and cover. Allow to simmer for at least 25 minutes or until all water is absorbed. Uncover pan, allow to cool.
 
For dressing, heat oil in a nonstick frypan. Add garlic and lemon rind. Cook and stir for 2 minutes, then add balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, and sugar. Remove from heat.
 
Add beets to cooled quinoa. Break walnuts into pieces and add to the bowl. Pour dressing over, add cilantro, and toss well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.  

 "Market" curtain backdrop in photo of Hen Truong was painted by Claire Stewart '07.

Nadine Fiedler is Catlin Gabel’s publications and public relations director and the editor of the Caller.

 

Thinking About Hunger, Acting Against Hunger

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From the Summer 2012 Caller

By Christa Kaainoa

About 50 of us are on the yellow school bus on a Wednesday morning in April—45 students and 5 teachers—headed to the Oregon Food Bank for our monthly Middle School service day. On the way, students shout out guesses about what we’ll be packing: onions, apples, cereal, potatoes, rice, granola bars . . . we’ve packed them all before and wonder what this day will bring.
 
We arrive at the Food Bank and are ushered in to a large, clean workspace, where Kyle, one of the friendly volunteer coordinators, welcomes us and explains our project for the day. We don hairnets, aprons, and gloves, then assemble in small mixed-grade groups around five workstations and begin our work.
 
On this particular day, I stand shoulder to shoulder with a 6th grade girl, at the edge of a waist-high vat of dry oats. I grab a plastic bag from a stack and peel it open. I hold it open for her, and she pours in two heaping scoops of oats. Peel, open, scoop, pour. Peel, open, scoop, pour. Then I hand the bags to another student for weighing, he passes them on to two others to be twist-tied, they pass them to an 8th grade girl who packs them into boxes, and then another student seals the boxes with packing tape and finally hands them off to a group of three 7th grade girls who stack the boxes, seven layers high, onto palettes. We operate like a machine, filling and passing the bags, packing and stacking boxes, and all the while, students socialize with each other and with their teachers. Conversations shift from weekend plans to class assignments, and sometimes, even, to the value of our work at the Food Bank.
 
I like working next to this particular student on this particular day because she gets tired early on, and I love that because I am her partner, she feels pressure to press on, scoop after scoop.
 
“I’m hungry!” she tells me. “I know, me too!” I answer, “And just think, there are kids in Oregon who feel this way EVERY DAY, and what we’re doing RIGHT NOW will end their hunger for a whole meal! Isn’t that cool?!” The student doesn’t really know how to respond to my enthusiasm, but she smiles, and then she leans down and starts scooping again. We’re both hungry, but we’re in it together, and what we’re doing matters.
 
After two hours of work, it’s time to clean up. We put supplies away, push tables to the side of the room, sweep the floors, and assemble to hear our grand totals for the day. We packed 5,610 pounds of oats. That’s 5,178 meals! Kyle explains that individually, each of us packed approximately 208 meals. We all clap and cheer, and exchange high fives. We say goodbye to Kyle, and file out the door and back to our school bus, proud of our accomplishments, and ready to come back and do it again next month.
 
Christa Kaainoa has been teaching 7th grade English at Catlin Gabel since 2004. Her daughter Amare ’24 just completed kindergarten at CGS.
 
For more information about the Oregon Food Bank, check out this video.

 

The Advocate Who Makes a Difference

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Curt Ellis '98 works to educate about food policy--and bring healthy food to children nationwide

From the Summer 2012 Caller

By Nadine Fiedler

Curt Ellis ’98 changed the national conversation about food and agriculture with his film King Corn. Now he’s set in motion a new national organization, FoodCorps, that will improve children’s access to better nutrition and school food. He’s idealistic, determined, and a great collaborator. With enthusiasm and humility, Curt Ellis faces big challenges—and gets things done.
 
Curt began his work as a food and agriculture advocate as a student at Yale University. “Something felt strange to me about graduating from college with an understanding of philosophy, science, and history, but knowing nothing about the food we eat,” he says. “The more we learned about the way food is grown and produced, and its impact on land and people, and the decline of health in Fast Food Nation, we came to feel that the system was not serving people well.” He and his friend Ian Cheney engaged the campus community with actions that were hard to ignore: they filled a kiddie wading pool with manure, stocked the quad with sheep, and brought in renowned chef and food activist Alice Waters to cook a dinner with food from local farms.
 
After graduation, Curt and Ian kept telling the story of the state of food and agriculture. They co-produced a documentary film called King Corn, released in 2007, which chronicled how Curt and Ian grew an acre of corn in Iowa for a year. Ian, Curt, and the film’s director, Curt’s cousin Aaron Woolf, produced an engaging, funny, and deeply serious film that brought to life their concerns about how food systems undermine health and fill markets with unhealthy food such as high-fructose corn syrup and confined, corn-fed beef
 
Curt and his collaborators weren’t content to stop at the making of the film: they wanted to bring its message to as wide an audience as they could. They used King Corn as a vehicle to change minds by screening it in Congress during deliberations about the Farm Bill and showing it in church basements and colleges in the Farm Belt and around the country. They worked with journalists to get them involved, and they connected with people at the grassroots level working on the issues. “The King Corn distribution blitz was a great, crazy adventure. We poured blood, sweat, and all our credit cards into King Corn, so it was a relief to know people other than my mom were watching it,” says Curt. Their efforts paid off: King Corn has had a powerful effect on the way Americans now view food policy.
 
“We’re still small potatoes in the world of blockbuster Hollywood movies, but King Corn reached several million people who saw the whole film, and many millions more who heard about it from the media and started getting educated on the issues. Film is a conversation starter—it’s not the last word. We got people talking, and that led to real change,” Curt says. After PBS aired King Corn in 2008, he and his crew were honored for their efforts with a Peabody Award.
 
Curt and Ian followed up with the 2010 film Big River, another collaboration with Aaron Woolf, about the effect of their acre of corn on downstream waters, and it was shown on Discovery Channel’s Planet Green series. They then embarked on the Truck Farm public art project, growing food on the back of a pickup truck in Brooklyn. On a road trip with the Truck Farm, Curt saw how magical it was for schoolchildren to see food grown in a strange place, and how it perked up their interest in fruits and vegetables.
 
With the experience he gained in making and marketing King Corn, Curt began conversations in 2009 with a group of five other advocates to figure out how they could accelerate the changes they wished to see in the national food system—in particular, with children in communities where obesity and hunger are significant challenges. Their idea, which is completing its first year on the ground, was FoodCorps: a national nonprofit, a “Teach for America for healthy school food.”
 
“There’s an inspiring generation of young leaders interested in food and agriculture,” says Curt. “FoodCorps gives them an opportunity for one year of paid public service. We thought it would work. We made it possible and paved the pathways.”
 
In an open planning process, the New York-based FoodCorps group solicited applications from organizations at the state level that were already doing work of this kind to be FoodCorps partners, and to work with the service members. They felt that working with local organizations and agencies, which are attuned to their local cultures, was key to success.
 
More than a thousand people applied for the 50 open positions as FoodCorps service members. “It’s not easy work. The service members earn a poverty-level wage, and they donate all their time and talent to make change possible in the world. The good news is the hard work is incredibly rewarding,” says Curt. Service members, who are also members of the AmeriCorps national service network, are working right now in 10 states, including Oregon, concentrating on three areas:
 
+ Food and nutrition education. They show where food comes from, in the classroom or in the garden. They talk about why fruits and vegetables are good for you in a way that sticks.
 
+ School gardens. This may be the students’ first time tasting healthy food. Because they’ve grown it, they can take pride in it. It’s a way for kids, parents, and community members to get their hands in the dirt side by side with their neighbors.
 
+ Access to good food, and a chance to eat well. FoodCorps members involve food service staff and chefs to get healthy farm-to-school food on school lunch menus.
 
Many FoodCorps service members have told Curt about the positive reactions they get from the schoolchildren. One stationed in Arkansas told about a day she did a pesto taste test with the kids, and a girl said, “I’d rather have this than a cookie.” A kid said to one member in Maine, “I never knew you could eat green leaves grown in the dirt!” And one member in Des Moines reported that a kid said to him, “You’re just like Justin Bieber, but for vegetables.”
 
In its first year, FoodCorps has shown remarkable results. “We’ve worked with 42,000 kids in the nine months we’ve been active. We’ve recruited more than 1,100 local volunteers to join in the work and help sustain it. We’ve built or revitalized 323 school or community gardens since August of 2010. We’ve donated 7,465 pounds of extra produce to needy communities,” says Curt. FoodCorps hopes to double the number of service members next year, and to keep growing.
 
Reflecting on his time at Catlin Gabel, Curt sees the value of a close community. “People care about each other at Catlin Gabel, in a way that sometimes feels like it’s missing from our culture at large. Our food culture can be brutally unfair: people who are not affluent often don’t have access to healthy, high-quality food. We’re not farming sustainably or looking out for our kids’ health. It’s a short-sighted view, when you think of the long-term consequences to the environment and health. My teachers at Catlin Gabel did an amazing job helping all of us to learn to take the long view. We were always asked to look outside ourselves, and to think how we can contribute, individually and as a country.”
 
“FoodCorps is all-consuming for me. I work long days, but I love my job,” says Curt. “It’s different from making films, but is actually a better fit for my interests and skills. Making films, you get to tell stories about people making a difference—but now I get to be part of getting things done myself.”
 
Nadine Fiedler is editor of the Caller and Catlin Gabel’s publications and public relations director.   

 

Why Garden in School?

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From the Summer 2012 Caller

By Carter Latendresse

During the fall months in our 6th grade classes, my colleagues and I teach gardening, ancient flood stories, contemporary dystopian literature, and ancient Mesopotamia. We ask our students to look backward to identify essential characteristics of the first human civilizations, so that they might look forward and imagine remaking Western civilization in the 21st century.
 
During these lessons, my history teacher partner, Ann Fyfield, focuses on the development of agriculture in the Neolithic Age (8000 BCE to 3000 BCE), the rise of Sumerian city-states, the four empires of Mesopotamia, and the characteristics of ancient civilizations. In my English class, the curriculum parallels and interweaves with that of my colleague at crucial points, especially around issues of soil, water, food, climate, environmental justice, and the stories we tell ourselves as humans to orient ourselves to Earth, to one another, to other animals, and to the cosmos. We can often be found outside during September and October, harvesting apples, grinding wheat, learning about bee keeping, planting overwintering lettuce, or baking pita bread in the garden cob oven. Several people have asked, “What does the garden have to do with English or history class?”
 
Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, in their seminal curriculum design text, Understanding by Design, show that while the best teaching prepares students for college, it is also rooted in solving today’s problems and celebrating today’s wisdom. The garden is our place of intersection for the teaching of ancient history, the novel, writing, economics, politics, anthropology, religion, myth, and science.
 
We have many reasons for teaching the Sumerian empire in our organic garden behind the Middle School building. These reasons grow out of the four enduring understandings we want our students to chew on for the rest of their lives.
 
The first enduring idea or understanding is that the aims and desires of most people on Earth have been fundamentally similar since hunter-gatherers first domesticated crops and animals in Iraq 10,000 years ago, and we can empathize with those people because we too desire, at bottom, the same things, which are connection and belonging. Focusing on new research involving empathy, mirror neurons, the lives of women, the colonized, and ordinary people throughout history, we unearth, as historians such as Howard Zinn, Winthrop Jordan, and Riane Eisler have done, representative stories of everyday people that could stand for the great silent majority of human history. We also presuppose, along with Jeremy Rifkin in The Empathic Civilization, that the deepest unconscious desires of Homo sapiens include companionship in towns that provide nutritious food, clean water, and safe homes for our children. By studying Mesopotamia, we get a snapshot of people putting these desires into action when they created the world’s first cities.
 
At the same time, I try to show that balanced relationships pervade, indeed define, naturally occurring ecosystems and gardens that are intelligently designed with permaculture principles. We try to dispel centuries of fearing dirt and insects. No topsoil, no life, we tell students, and No honeybees, very boring food. We teach them about life cycles, collecting seeds, planting and transplanting from the greenhouse, companion planting, pollination, mulching, rain gardens, bioswales, native plant diversity, harvesting, cooking, eating, flower arranging, good table manners, composting, and the symbiotic relationships that pervade the cosmos. Reconnecting to the first civilization in ancient Iraq, with their reading, writing, gardening, food preparation, and eating, our students embody the oldest desires of civilized humans striving for community.
 
Our second enduring idea that we want our students to return to throughout their lives is that a phalanx of interrelated environmental problems faces the human species today, each of which is exacerbated by overpopulation. While these global issues may feel both overwhelming and unapproachable, during the autumn of the 6th grade year, we teach that these problems are linked, while several are causal, one giving way to the other, and all have their roots in practices found in Mesopotamia.
 
First, I share excerpts from both J.F. Rischard’s book High Noon and Jared Diamond’s history Collapse. These texts detail mutually supporting environmental troubles (Rischard lists 20; Diamond 11) that work today in a kind of grim synergy: global warming, deforestation, biodiversity loss, fisheries depletion, and water shortages, among them. Then I share excerpts from Clive Ponting’s A New Green History of the World, in which he argues that each empire, whether Sumerian, Egyptian, Roman, or Mayan, follows the same paradigm during its downfall: first they clear the land of trees, then erect massive irrigation systems, then they farm monocultures, which leads to erosion and overwatering of inadequate soils, then desertification follows, and eventually the empire collapses.
 
Another issue we want our students to investigate, as part of this second enduring understanding, is that these difficulties are mutually supporting spokes of a wheel that continue today to roll over the backs of billions, especially in the Southern Hemisphere. “It is wrong to grow temperate-zone vegetables [as monocrops for export, such as bananas] in the tropics and fly them back to rich consumers,” Vandana Shiva writes in Soil Not Oil, articulating some of the sometimes hidden interplay between injustice and ecology. “This uproots local peasants, creates hunger and poverty, and destroys local agrobiodiversity. . . . Since vegetables and fruits are perishable, transporting them long distances is highly energy-intensive, contributing to climate change.” When lands are cleared for these exports, pesticides and inorganic nitrate fertilizers are typically poured into the diminishing soil, which then invites pests and disease—as monocultures have easier genetic codes to crack than biodiverse fields—which in turn increases the need to clear and deforest more land for cultivation. Healthy economies and ecosystems overseas are compromised, even ruined, by the industrialized global food system.
 
Instead of simply cataloging wrongdoing across the world and assigning blame, though—which in the end is counterproductive to the empathic civilization that we hope to create—we 6th grade teachers like to move quickly to our third enduring understanding, which seeks to empower the students with problem-solving strategies.
 
The third enduring understanding we unpack for our students is that just as the current global crises are interwoven, multiple solutions will be employed this century on an international scale, but we, paradoxically, might most easily help on campus by studying local, organic food, responsible water use, and enlightened community engagement. If we grow organic vegetables at school in raised beds using low-evaporation drip irrigation, using seed we’ve collected from the previous year, and then we later harvest and eat that produce at lunch in our salad bar, we show the students how to support healthy, local, biodiverse economies—and overseas farming economies, by extension, who might convert their fields back to feeding their own people—while also reducing the use of inorganic fertilizers and pesticides, as well as diminishing global warming that follows energy-intensive global packaging, refrigeration, and shipping.
 
It’s our job as educators to resist dichotomous, simplistic, silver-bullet thinking; rather, we strive to admit the complex truths and to problem-solve collaboratively across coalitions and issues. We resist cynicism, hopelessness, and paralyzing guilt as we explore these topics with our students. When we look to the past with our students, we can see the choices our ancestors made when they settled around reliable food sources in the Middle East at the end of the last ice age, building the world’s first cities, and we can imagine remaking our future cities this century with smaller carbon footprints.
 
Our fourth enduring understanding is that the stories a culture tells itself about its origins, its purpose, and its future will determine to a large extent that culture’s ability to survive the tests of time. I find that I am able to present both the intersecting predicaments of our contemporary world and the possible solutions by retelling the oldest stories humanity has told itself about its creation, its place in the cosmos, its meaning and purpose. I therefore teach Gilgamesh, the first of all written stories, from Mesopotamia, as well as Genesis, perhaps the world’s most influential narrative, plus a host of Greek myths, from the beginnings with Gaea and Uranus, through Cronos to Zeus, Prometheus, and Pandora, ending with Deucalion and Pyrrha. Similarities jump out when the three narrative strands are laid side by side: gods create the world, including humanity; humans either lose or try to gain eternal life and fail; gods become displeased with humans and send a flood, killing all except for a favored few, who survive in a boat and then go on to repopulate the world with the gods’ blessings. The fact that the oldest stories all focus on an ecological catastrophe similar to the ones featured on our contemporary nightly news is not lost on our students. They see, for example, that global warming is melting the polar ice caps today, threatening coastal civilizations with flooding. If the ice caps melt, our students know, hundreds of millions worldwide will become ecological refugees. Studying the ancient stories in the contexts of both the founding of human civilization and our current ecological predicaments makes sense, then, as we want the students, ultimately, to imagine new narratives for the coming century that will help them create a just global village.
 
In addition to studying the world’s oldest stories, I also teach contemporary dystopian literature (titles include Shipbreaker, Hunger Games, and The House of the Scorpion) to explore a number of possible reactions to our numerous ecological predicaments. Further, I pair the dystopian novels with nonfiction reading of four National Geographic articles on the first civilizations, food insecurity, topsoil loss, and water scarcity. We direct students to identify reasons for civilization collapse in their novels and articles and to imagine resurrections based on sustainable principles involving soil, water, food, housing, and energy production. In groups they create their own civilizations in this century, given certain definitions for advanced civilization, while also not ignoring the ecological challenges we are facing right now.
 
Taken together, these four enduring understandings undergird our reasons for teaching in the garden. We want to provide students with the backstory for how we got to 2012 as a human species, emphasizing that the study of human history should elicit our empathy rather than condemnation. We also want to provide our students with interpretive lenses through which they can analyze both our current human impact and utter reliance on Earth. Last, we want to offer students the schemata to remake a more sustainable, just, and enjoyable civilization for the world’s citizens in the 21st century.
 
Carter Latendresse has been teaching 6th grade English at Catlin Gabel since 2006. He is also a husband, the father of two including Emma ’20, and the garden coordinator on campus.
 
You may also like to read the full text of this essay.

 

The Pitchfork to Plate Journey

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5th graders learn about food systems--and much more

From the Summer 2012 Caller

By Maggie Bendicksen

Seven years ago, our 5th graders weren’t as engaged in social studies as much as we would have hoped. Unlike the 3rd grade Lewis & Clark curriculum, there was nothing for the kids to see, hear, taste, or smell about our study of colonial America. In their reflections, students often remarked that social studies was their least favorite subject. This seemed like such a shame, as social studies can be the backbone of an engaging, integrated, and progressive curriculum. Something needed to change.
 
At the time, in early 2005, the West Coast was abuzz with a curiosity about the food we eat. Alice Waters (of Chez Panisse fame) started the Edible Schoolyard in the Bay Area, and Eric Schlosser had recently published Fast Food Nation, followed soon after by Chew on This, a corollary for children. Next up was Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and the New York Times re-discovering Portland as the food capital of the country.
 
People were talking about how our food moves from pitchfork to plate, and we were intrigued. Could this be our new focus? After carefully reviewing national social studies standards, we realized that we needed to include a “system” of something being produced from start to finish, as well as a significant and developmentally appropriate global connection for the kids to explore.
 
Once we had a basic framework in mind, we gathered together all of the history teachers, grades 6 to 12, and asked for their blessing to make the change. I remember Upper School history teacher Peter Shulman asking if we would still teach the kids how to question, research, analyze, and synthesize. We answered yes, and our pitchfork to plate journey began in earnest.
 
At the same time, the school hired a new food services director, Hen Truong, who was interested in reshaping the Barn’s offerings. We quickly partnered with Hen to discover what the school community’s “dream Barn” might look like.
 
The timing seemed perfect.
 
After a busy summer of planning and with the help of David Yudkin (father of Koby ’11 and Sadie ’12, and co-owner of Hot Lips Pizza with wife Jeana Edelman ’77), we began to develop a list of essential questions, as well as a conceptual framework and skill benchmarks. We decided to focus on helping students understand how food moves from farms to farmer’s markets, processing and packaging facilities, warehouse distribution centers, supermarkets, and restaurants, and ultimately to our plates. With so many resources just a bus ride away, the students would be able to experience firsthand this complex and fascinating set of systems.
 
We kicked off the study in the fall of 2006 with a string of field trips so the kids would be immersed in the pitchfork to plate process. We visited a wheat farm in Eastern Oregon, an organic family farm near Hillsboro (where kids munched straight from the vine), the Portland Farmer’s Market (to stay within a budget and interview farmers), the Wheat Marketing Center, where we studied the science, trade, shipping, and economics of different varieties of wheat, and Norpac, a massive conventional food processing and packaging facility in Salem. We challenged ourselves to plan, shop, and cook a 150-mile lunch for Valentine’s Day, a difficult task in Oregon in February! We also visited restaurants for behind-the-scenes tours and to discover the many decisions restaurant owners make when purchasing food, designing menus, and serving the public.
 
Over the years, we have modified the curriculum. Some field trips have been added, others dropped. More age-appropriate nonfiction materials have been published, which has made researching easier for our 5th graders. When What the World Eats was published in 2008, we added it to our curriculum and created a fully integrated research project, with the help of librarians Lisa Ellenberg and Dan Woytek, that focuses on how different cultures approach food production and consumption. When something relevant bubbles up, we make room for emergent “real time” action projects. The students threw themselves into the One Ounce Campaign, which challenged each person on campus to reduce daily waste by one ounce per day to meet the school’s “zero waste” goals.
 
What has remained the same is our commitment to helping this age group (situated at the fascinating crossroads of concrete thinking and abstract thought) engage in true social studies, nudging them to see not only the facts and history of food, but the many shades of gray that go into how families make the decisions they make. It would be easy for the kids to take an all good/all evil approach to the organic/conventional debate or the whole/local/slow food vs. fast food conversation. What’s harder and far more interesting is to try to understand why people make the decisions that they do and how economics, culture, and practicality figure into the equation.
 
After our trip to New Seasons to shop for our 150-mile lunch, the kids reflected on how surprised they were at all of the 87 (and counting) considerations we brainstormed about that consumers go through when buying food for their families— including price, availability, seasonality, taste, packaging, and whether it is prepared or not.
 
One part of the curriculum that we’ve kept is Chew on This, an extremely opinionated and sensational “history” of the fast food industry. Kids are fascinated and repulsed, then fascinated some more by this book. The quote, “A single fast-food hamburger now may contain meat from hundreds or even thousands of different cattle” catches kids’ attention, as does the section that describes the bugs that create the color additive that makes McDonald’s strawberry shakes pink. It’s not hard to grab the 5th graders’ focus with factoids like these, so we run with their interest while taking the opportunity to talk about the author’s intent, sources, and persuasive techniques. We also examine how advertising and marketing affect our choices, whether we realize it or not. One of our favorite things to do when kids tell us they aren’t affected by advertising is to ask them to pile all of our shoes in the center of the room and sort them by brand. “Oh,” is the collective response. “Maybe the ads do work.”
 
In honor of Michael Pollan’s now-famous quote, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants,” and to balance Chew’s negative bent of what not to eat, we started a series of Wacky Wednesdays, a chance for parents to bring in a whole food that kids might not have tasted before and to share a personal connection with it and fascinating facts about the plant. Students have tried jicama and lime, starfruit, unsweetened coconut, edamame, and other delicious and appealing treats they might have balked at if served at the family dinner table.
 
Throughout the five years, we’ve tried to be mindful of creating room for hope in the curriculum. Our study can be heavy and frightening at times, filled often with what not to do instead of what to do. At the close of Chew on This, we team with art teacher Peggy Schauffler ’78 to dream about what kids can do to create a more hopeful future. We’ve made a hope quilt, hope prayer flags, and t-shirts that we hope will spark conversation.
 
We also often end the year with an action project so the 5th graders feel they are capable of having an impact on their own community— part of the school’s mission of supporting “inspired learning leading to responsible action.” Last year, for instance, Spring Festival coordinators came to us with the challenge of reducing the number of disposable water bottles at the festival, a real problem the kids decided to try to solve. Leslie Stiff Arm ’18 remarked, “Honestly, I have learned so much about sustainability that sometimes my head hurts thinking about it. Like the fact that the 5th grade got the whole Lower School to participate in a contest to keep plastic water bottles from going to the ocean. It wasn’t a huge impact on the earth, but hey, every act counts. Also, I have started being more aware of composting and recycling as much as I can, without going insane.”
 
One spring, we teamed with Hen and facilities director Eric Shawn on what we called the “blue plate special,” a research project that helped the school decide to move from disposable to reusable plates. For another year-end project, we received a grant to seed various student proposals, which included an anti-idling campaign for cars on campus, planting the Lower School garden, and creating sustainability presentations for other schools.
 
Matthew Bernstein ’15 felt that the action projects helped him want to be a part of positive and significant changes in the world around him. He wrote, “I now live and breathe sustainability! We are next-door neighbors with my grandparents, and I am teaching them about sustainability. This has been a great year for me. I really enjoyed learning about all of the large and small ways to improve the health of the planet. I was encouraged to do lots of little projects on my own, and I have liked that.”
As a teacher, there is nothing better than witnessing students realize they are capable of changing the world, even one water bottle or ounce at a time. I am so grateful to work in a school that encourages teachers to take risks and to create meaningful, relevant curriculum with children. It truly doesn’t get any better than that.

150-mile Lunch: In February?

We had a challenge, a yummy challenge. The 5th graders had to make a palatable lunch for Valentine’s Day from ingredients that all come from within 150 miles of Catlin Gabel. The menu: leek soup, salad, baked potatoes, apples, and pears. We went shopping, we prepared, we cooked, we did everything ourselves. And we had a good time! Here’s how we did it. We hopped on the bus to New Seasons, and entered en masse (much to the terror of innocent shoppers), each got assigned a product to buy, and spread out in small groups, taking a tour and picking up items along the way, considering price, quality, past experience, packaging, and how far away the food was grown. Eventually we finished and headed home. Cooking commenced immediately. Everyone pitched in and with minor adult supervision we shredded, dried, sliced, smashed, cooked, and served. And boy, was it worth it. Try it sometime. I dare you! —Rowan Treece ’19

Maggie Bendicksen has taught 5th grade at Catlin Gabel since 2002. Her sons Jacob ’16 and Liam ’18 survived 5th grade and its pitchfork to plate curriculum, and no longer beg for McDonald’s French fries as they drive down Burnside. Burgerville is another story.
 
 

 

Use it Up, Wear it Out, Eat it All

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From the Summer 2012 Caller

By Lark P. Palma PhD, Head of School

Over the sink in our South Carolina home hung a small green sign that embodied one of my mother’s strongest beliefs: “Use it up, wear it out, eat it all!”
 
We had fresh free-range eggs and chickens, an old-fashioned ice box on the back porch filled with local fruits and vegetables, bushels of blue crab claws, flounder, and bass that we gathered ourselves or that were given to my physician father as payment for medical services. For some people these gifts were the only way they had to pay the doctor, so we happily accepted the fishermen’s and farmers’ bounty.
 
My childhood shaped my attitudes about food. It should be enjoyed with lots of people. It should take some time to prepare. It should be as delicious as possible and be provided from the closest sources that the season provides. Because of my early exposure to good food, my life habits were set.
 
In this issue you will read many examples of curricular depth in interdisciplinary and experiential studies of food and nutrition, from social science, to health and PE, to science, math, the humanities, and languages. Our students study food as culture in modern languages, and read Jared Diamond’s Collapse in 9th grade history. As the students get older their learning circle expands to particular communities in this state (Oregon is one of the hungriest states in the country), other states with similar statistics, and countries all over the world for whom food insecurity is a chronic problem. The effects of famine, soil erosion, deforestation, and political control of food to subdue or exterminate groups of people create debilitating diseases and high childhood mortality. We acknowledge that if we teach our students to understand their relationship with food, they will be better be able to study and understand the conditions of people in communities not like ours.
 
Our students come to recognize these disparities, and with compassion and resolve volunteer with local agencies that work against hunger. We have the good fortune to have 60 acres in which our students run and play, participate in athletics, and develop their own personal fitness goals, allowing them to develop healthy habits from the earliest age.
 
The way the school supports, reflects on, and models the way we should think about food lends complexity to something that might seem simple at first. And should you come to Catlin Gabel’s campus, be sure to stop by our Barn, the center of our food service, and see how that has changed, with its emphasis on fresh, local, and healthful foods. It’s a representation of our seriousness about nutrition, health, sustainability, and global awareness. In recognition of wider realities, we really do “use it up, wear it out, and eat it all.”  

 

Graduation 2012 Photo Gallery

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After a week of steady – sometimes torrential – rain, the weather brightened on the class of 2012. The sun came out just in time to catch photos of a great group of seniors just before they became alumni.

Click on any thumbnail to start the slide show, and see larger and downloadable images.