Mid-March on a perfectly sunny spring day, I had the opportunity to visit an organic, sustainable farm: Arcadia Farms. It was the best field trip I’d been on this school year. I didn’t have to do any of the planning, just a little supervision while at the farm. We arrived at Arcadia after a scenic drive on George Washington Parkway. My colleague had planned the trip and invited or I should say allowed me to tag along. It was a Science field trip for our English Language Learner students, most of whom were from El Salvador, some from Honduras, and one spunky kid from Columbia. As soon as we got there, I felt right at home. It was an adorable farm with tons of personality. The farmers had named the gardens with such creativity. There was the salsa garden, the Velveteen Rabbit garden, etc. There were a few gardens named after books and fairy tales. I was already transported to kiddie land. (There are many instances when my students get to witness me as a gleeful child and are mostly embarrassed by it, but secretly love it. At least, I tell myself this!)
Once off the bus, we divided the students into four groups which rotated through a number of stations. That day students learned about good bugs and bad bugs for farming, composting, bees and how they can help a farm, etc. Two things happened that day unexpectedly. One has got me evaluating my approach as an educator and the other has got me obsessed with Beets. I shall start with the latter. Before Arcadia farms, Beets were the center of humor; I connected them to Dwight Shrute of Shrute Farms from The Office. I ate them occasionally, but never really brought them home to prepare. At Arcadia, one of the stations that the students rotated through was the “make your own salad” station. Here students got to chop purple carrots, shred beets, get purple dye all over their fingers, and chop radish. While at the station because I didn’t plan this trip, I had no idea that students were actually prepping for the salad that we were going to have during lunch later.
After all the learning was complete, we sat down at picnic tables on the farm for lunch. I pulled out my Starbucks prepackaged sandwich-a staple field trip food-and waited my turn to go to the salad bar. While the adults at my table waited, we watched something incredible happen. Our students, who usually eat Takis and Oreos and donuts for breakfast, were going back for seconds of the beet salad! Never had I seen students excited to eat beets of all things! This got me even more excited about my portion.
My plate of deliciously sweet and crunchy beet salad swept me away for a moment into my childhood–to a place where I roamed freely along rows of farmland eating tomatoes straight from the plant and wild berries that stained all articles of clothing. I instantly memorized the recipe and promised myself to make the salad for Neil.
My glorious vision broken by an unexpected event: One gleeful student ran up to me and asked me if he could have the recipe for the salad he just ate. I looked at him surprised, was this the same kid who ate Takis daily as his pre-lunch snack in my room? The awesome young and energetic farmers quickly got copies of the recipe and handed them out to all students who wanted them. This is the day I fell in love with beets and an awesome student we’ll call Edward.
Edward was a boy who barely spoke any English and completely fidgety during class. He talked through my mini lessons and laughed out aloud at everything. Anytime I looked up, he torso was either twisted facing the another student behind him, while seated or dangling behind him. Imagine a giant gummy bear bouncing around–this was Edward. I had no idea what he was capable of because he never did any work in my classroom. This day, however, at Arcadia Farms, I saw Edward for the first time as a learner. He was gleefully learning about everything. The focus that he suddenly had at each station was so new to me that I had trouble remembering the old Edward. Edward laughed and joked around, but listened and watched as the Arcadia farmers demonstrated and shared.
Watching Edward engaged in this way reminded me of the school featured in the movie Admission. It was a school called Quest, I think, and at this school students learned by doing. I remember watching the movie and dreaming of what my life would be like if I worked at a school where students learned through real experiences instead of staged ones.
Late May, I received my students state test scores and was depressed for days. A dark cloud followed me around and I couldn’t shake it. Every time anyone brought up the topic of the state tests, my stomach sunk with a large bubble of sadness. I felt like my students hadn’t learned anything in my class. (Why is it so easy to focus on the negative and so easily forget all the positive?) Then one evening in an effort to cheer myself up, I began to sort photos from this school year and was gratefully reminded that actually students at our school have learned through genuine experiences. We laughed, wrote stories at The National Portrait Gallery, challenged each other at the Winkler Botanical Preserve zip-line, and created positive change in our schools identity. Whether or not I wanted to admit it, my students had grown–sometimes because of the teacher and sometimes in spite of her.
Arcadia Farms Beet Salad Recipe
1 bag of Salad greens such as spinach, arugula, or mixed greens
3 Beets shredded
2 Carrots peeled
4 radishes chopped
1/2 cup Bolthouse Honey Mustard
*You can adjust ingredients to your taste buds!
Mix beets, carrots, and radishes together and add honey mustard. Then, when ready to serve add salad greens. Store beets mixture separately from the salad greens for leftovers.