FoodCorps Friday- Nurturing Relationships in my Service
By, Food Bank of Northeast Georgia service member, Katie Sanders
After volunteering to teach science based education to elementary students in my senior year of college and interning at an organic farm, FoodCorps seemed to be the logical next step for me in my career path. I entered into my year of service with what I thought was a pretty clear idea of my responsibilities: I would be out in the garden growing food and I would teach garden based learning as much as possible. It sounded straightforward and I jumped into my service term with this mindset of simplicity. However, like most situations in life, this clear-cut definition of my service would not turn out to be true. Luckily for me, it is certainly for the better.
Initially I eased into my service site by serving mainly in the garden space and assisting with any planning and planting. While I certainly enjoyed this time with the students in the outdoors, I quickly found myself wanting more and itching to expand my service presence. Naturally, referring back to my idea of my responsibilities, I thought that my issue was that I needed to be teaching my own lessons. In fervor I began seeking lesson plans and ideas to implement into the classroom. For a few weeks, lesson planning held my attention as I dedicated a large majority of my time not spent in the garden with my students to finding more lesson ideas (as an aside, thankfully I am getting much faster as I get more used to the process). Together with my co-teacher, I was able to find a variety of lessons for our K-5 classes. Just last week I was given the opportunity to cover a couple of these on my own. My students really seemed to enjoy our lesson time, however I once again found myself wanting more. Only now I did not have any other preconceived notions of my FoodCorps responsibilities to fall back on.
Entering into unfamiliar territory has never been something that I am comfortable doing. It takes a good bit for me to push myself out of my comfort zone and explore other opportunities, even as exciting as those other opportunities may be. Two months into my service term and I already had to push out of my comfort zone and find a way to make my service as meaningful as possible and go beyond just gardening and lesson creations. I honestly did not know where to begin, but it was during this time that I had to miss a few days to go to a meeting. When I returned back to the school building it suddenly dawned on me. As I entered the school and passed students in the hallway, I was greeted by a battering of shouting little voices yelling, “Hi Ms. FoodCorps Katie!” “Where were you yesterday?!” “We missed you!” For the rest of that day I received similar statements from all of the children I saw and I realized that my absence had had an effect on them. Which means my presence on a normal day must have an effect on them too. It might seem like an obvious statement but it was profound for me to realize the simple fact that my presence is a responsibility in my service term.
Spurred by this revelation I began to interact with my students on a more personal level, I started to ask them about their weekend before or after class. I began to learn more about what they like to do outside of school and what interests them. Each day I felt my relationships with my students growing stronger and this in turn caused my lessons, that I was still helping to lead with them, to become better and more fulfilling. My students weren’t afraid to speak up and ask me questions, nor were they shy about greeting me in the hallway.
After some reflection, it was all of these situations that led me to understand that my service term would be marked by yes, gardening and lesson implementation, but that it would be laid on a foundation of building relationships with my students. These relationships would make it possible for me to impact my students and their healthy habits on a more personal level. Subsequently, building these same relationships with the teachers and staff of the school have allowed me to expand my presence at the school on a whole. Now I have been able to integrate into the cafeteria space. By relying on my relationship with my students, I hope to be able to create a real impact on the types of foods my students put on their plates and enjoy. As I continue to expand my service I will maintain these relationships first and foremost as they are my true responsibility as a FoodCorps service member and they are the sole reason that I have been able to create the impact that I have.