By: Josh Hodge, La Semilla Food Center Service Member
As my service term heads into the final stretch, I reflect on many things. My service focuses almost entirely on hands on learning, with some elements of healthy school meals. Within this context I want to reflect on the challenges as I see them in implementing the healthy school toolkit at my sites and the challenges I face as a service member. And I will keep it short and sweet: indirect service, that is in this case working with the teachers (or rather giving them the tools, information, curriculum etc.) instead of directly with the students and alongside the teachers is not the long term, more viable option it seems to be.
I say this from my perspective as a service member, and I point that out because our service is a term, it is not indefinite. Constantly from gatherings and conversations with other service I hear members voice their fear, that the work they are doing in their service will be for naught, as teachers change or lose interest, principals transfer, budgets and grants fall through etc. It is something I have struggled with too as my term nears its end: “are the teachers going to be able to continue doing this? Are the gardens going to be taken care of?” etc. I take comfort in the fact that the future in uncertain, but I am confident that the gardens will be used, and that some teachers will find time out of their day to use the gardens, use their curriculums and maintain these spaces. While I do take comfort, there are reasons for concern, as grass overtakes some gardens, fruit trees die and aren’t replaced, irrigation spectrums continue with a mere trickle as they clog with hard water, and a variety of other issues that are wholly dependent on the teachers and staff reporting them to service members and the overseeing organization, should they do so. In the future, how is it sustainable if the organization and service members must continue their presence, to troubleshoot, oversee plantings and maintenance.
With teachers having to work more, for less finding time to work in garden work, and doing work in the garden is something that is hard to do, no matter how much the work may align with standards. I don’t foresee a monumental shift in budgets in New Mexico, nor do I anticipate less time going towards testing which is now almost near a month and a half’s time out of the school year. Is the solution then a shift in the model towards giving the teachers the tools and hoping they can maintain the space, and coordinate with school staff in a self-sustaining model? In some very rare cases I can see this working with some very highly motivated teachers, but I am pessimistic. We are asking too much of the teachers and staff I believe, and it in this model it does a disservice to the service members who want to be involved in this work, not merely setting it up for a path of self-sufficiency in the face of a limited budget, and teachers who are stretched too thin.
What then are we to do? In my case my service site works with schools for a period of 3 years, after that they are supposed to be weaned off, and hopefully can take care of the garden, lead lessons, plant etc. This has not happened yet, and is hypothetical, what is going to happen has yet to be determined. A vision of services being delivered by the service site, in the form of packages is something I foresee, whereby schools can opt for services (paid by the schools) that cover the maintenance and upkeep, the troubleshooting, the plantings etc. Asking schools with budgets that are slashed, teachers who are working in the face of cuts and having to work above and beyond their contract hours, and principals who are faced with so much, to pay for these services seems like a risk, and something that may force them away.
In short the indirect service route which aims for self-sufficiency, goes back to limited direct service at a cost, which if not opted for leaves the schools with what? Hopefully a self-sufficient program, and teachers and staff who can keep up the good work.