02 April 2015

A CREATIVE DC: ATARA BERNSTEIN + SWEETGREEN IN SCHOOLS

A Creative DC is a weekly series showcasing all aspects of a creative lifestyle in the District. The city's full and part-time doers and makers, how + where they live, gather, and create, and what they do, make, and notice. For more about the project click here. Follow along here at Panda Head and at @aCreativeDC on Instagram, and hashtag your own DC lifestyle with #aCreativeDC. Your life looks good here.

I've posted about sweetgreen in schools on the @aCreativeDC instagram feed before – a series of wellness workshops that educate kids about healthy eating, fitness and sustainability through fun, hands-on activities, I'm such a fan of its passion + purpose. Taught in classrooms and – field-trip style – at sweetgreen locations across DC, MD, VA and NYC, more often than not Atara Bernstein is at the helm, and I've been so thrilled to get to know her – and about the program at large – over the last couple of months. I tagged along to Seaton Elementary last week for a m u s i c a l lesson that involved local dreampop trio The Walking Sticks (they'll be playing the sweetlife festival coming up in May), and I'm not sure if I'm going to be able to fully get across how adorable – and valuable – it was to experience. Between the tambourines and the writing workshop (in which the fourth graders in attendance came up with veggie-themed lyrics to Pharrell's "Happy"), I found myself clapping along more than I did camera click-click-clicking. Big thanks to Atara + sweetgreen for having me, and more with Atara below.

"Music is a powerful tool. Music is viral- it gets stuck in your head subliminally and unintentionally. Think about a situation where you're driving in the car and you hear a Taylor Swift song, and then later in the supermarket, you hear that song in your head- completely unwarranted. Think about the possibilities for our youth if we replaced the lyrics of that Taylor Swift song with positive empowering messages about health + wellness. Imagine the impact that we could have.... it's pretty influential. Music can transmit and deliver potent ideas. This is why music is a part of our DNA at sweetgreen, and SGIS."

How did you start working with sweetgreen?
I was originally hired as a teacher for sweetgreen's "sweetgreen in schools" program...My background is in environmental and experiential learning, so the teaching aspect of the job came naturally to me. Over time I began to take on more responsibility, and I'm now recruiting, managing school partnerships, and developing long term strategy for the program.

"Cute quote from a student at Maury ES after attending a sweetgreen in schools class at sweetgreen Capitol Hill: 'This field trip changed my entire opinion about salad! I used to hate spinach, and now I like it! I can't wait to share my salad with my dad tonight and we can start eating spinach together!'"

You are SO GOOD with kids. Can you talk about your first time in a classroom?
My first class was our Eat the Rainbow lesson, where kids learn about the benefits of eating a colorful diet. The lesson concludes with a rainbow salad making and tasting session. To my very pleasant surprise, while some students were a bit nervous about trying fruits and veggies, ALL of the students were transformed after they tried their rainbow salad that they made at the end of the lesson. This has really changed the way that I approach the tasting section of the lessons. I now encourage all of my students to give new healthy foods a try. Even if they don't care for the new ingredient, exposure is key, and may ultimately lead to a new attitude towards fruits and veggies.

...And what have you learned since? 
 Despite warnings from other adults, kids want to be healthy. They want to take care of their bodies, their minds, and their hearts. Most importantly, when given the chance, kids love fresh, real food! We all have a responsibility to offer kids more opportunities to be healthy. The more they try new foods, the more likely they are to make better food choices.

How did SGIS start?
It started as a series of chef demonstrations during Growing Healthy Schools Week (District-wide celebration of farm to school programs) in 2010. We had an epiphany that nutrition education was a really simple, yet powerful way to give back to our community. The idea of sweetgreen in schools was incubated during that week, and has since flourished into comprehensive wellness education program, involving more than 2,000 students each year.

What will the SGIS presence at sweetlife be? And who are you excited to see?!
Proceeds will support sweetgreen in schools, and FoodCorps, our national charity partner. [And] WET and The Walking Sticks, of course!

How can people get involved with SGIS?
We have some cool volunteer opportunities at our workshops. Email me if you'd like to get involved!

sweetgreen in schools
atara.bernstein@sweetgreen.com
The Walking Sticks bandcamp

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