Uuqinak’uuh Elementary School, Vancouver, BC
Grandview / Uuqinak’uuh Elementary School is a very special place! This Inner city school in Vancouver, British Columbia is lucky to have a lovely, expansive green space with many large trees, and a well established school garden and our open longhouse structure provides an outdoor teaching space (interrupted by a noisy Skytrain that rumbles by every 4 minutes). When you walk through the front doors, in the main lobby there is a large Coast Salish story pole and at its base there is a circle of comfortable chairs and a low table for community members to gather around. All through the day there is generally group of parents meeting here. Prioritizing Social Emotional as well as physical health are a strong values for the whole school community. Classrooms are generally small allowing for individual needs of the students and teachers are dedicated to creating nurturing and flexible teaching environments (while struggling with limited resources and funding cuts!)
In the surrounding neighborhood there are several government subsidized aboriginal housing complexes, where the majority of our students live. This makes for a tight knit community – many of our parents are Grandview alumni and there are always lots of cousins, aunties and grandparents around. It also means many of our families at Grandview experience multi-generational poverty, constant food insecurity, and housing issues such as over-crowding and even homelessness, aswell as the on going process of healing from the trauma of Residential Schools.
I hold a Position funded by Vancouver Coastal Health as The Healthy Eating Coordinator. I stepped into this role at the beginning of the school year. However, I have worked at Grandview since 2009 as a Student Support Worker. In 2015 I was ready to make a change and so I went to culinary school – what I discovered through this process is a passion for food sustainability and community building! It is such a delight to be back at Grandview in this new role! Providing opportunities for these students to develop the tangible skills of cooking and gardening feels so important and the enthusiasm in which they participate in these activities shows me that it is meaningful to them as well.
Our whole school Salad bar Service, offered on Thursdays and Fridays every week provides many students with needed nutritional benefits that they may otherwise be missing in their diets! However it is the growing vocabulary of foods and the interest in new items that I have really seen develop over the year. I often have students come up to me and request items that I had in past, or share with me ideas for new things. We now regularly have Edamame beans on the salad bar because a student requested them – at first hardly anyone knew what they were and now they are a very popular item! Soon we will plant these in our garden for our own supply!
Gardening and Healthy eating programs have been a part of School culture at Grandview for many years, in fact our students who are graduating into high school this year have had exposure to these programs since they were in kindergarten and I am confident that they know how to put seeds in the ground and help them grow! They also have a broader vocabulary of foods and ingredients then other groups of students of a similar socio/ economic demographic who haven’t had the same exposure to this kind of program. I expect the ripple effect of this to be a greater ability to feed themselves and make healthy choices about what they eat because they have the skills to do so!