Got an A on your vocabulary test? PARTY! Published your first book of poetry? PARTY! Showed up to school without a middle school-hormone infused-say no to everything TANTRUM ? PARTY WITH BALLOONS AND VEGAN CUPCAKES!
As a creative in the classroom, I did my absolute best to create a sense of community. A sense of pride. A sense of respect. A sense of empowerment. I taught middle school English for 10 years in NYC charter schools. Basically, I taught students how to read and write for a really long time. I’m not sure how I survived or used the maximum amount of patience required with budding teenagers but, I do feel empowered as an expert in the field of classroom management and engagement. Also, there’s no BIG SECRET–just have the utmost fun! That’s it. I know I was (am) a popular teacher because I had (have) fun! I used music, art, dance, and food to engage my students. For a character project, I designed a character dinner party after reading for six seeks in historical fiction book clubs. My seventh graders had to dress up as their literary character, act as that character at the party, and bring in a dish their character would bring in. I planned for weeks, empowering the students to plan and justify their character choices based on character thoughts and actions in the book. And guess what? They learned about literary elements and had fun! It was overwhelming for sure but definitely memorable and successful. I continued to plan open mics, holiday celebrations, historical reenactments, and pumpkin parties! (seriously had an all pumpkin party after pumpkin picking one year)
I’d been teaching for three years before I became vegan. Imagine this conversation years ago with a child:
11 year old: Did you know Ms. Berry is a virgin? (A different conversation, friends. )
Principal: A what?!
11 year old: A virgin! She doesn’t eat meat or drink milk.
Principal: (chuckling in the most professional way) Oh, you mean she’s a vegan?
11 year old: EXACTLY!
My principal told me that and I was so proud! Yes, I’m proud she knew I was a vegan. Why? Because in her 5th grade class, I made all of my celebrations mostly vegan. I mean, I had NO control of what the students brought on their own, of course. But, what I coudld control? Vegan!
So it all happened like this: I read tons of books about being vegan (read about my journey here.) and decided that I’d no longer eat animal products. Since classroom celebrations were such an integral part of my classroom culture, I had some problems to solve. I’m an open and honest educator so I let my students know in the most matter of fact way.
I explained that veganism means I no longer partake in anything with meat, eggs, dairy, or anything with a central nervous system. They were amazing about it! They asked lots of questions and one girl said,
“You sure are fat to only eat vegetables..”
My fifth graders planned a thoughtful surprise birthday celebration that included fruits, lays, soda, and oreos. They researched all on their own and their menu was surprisingly vegan. Years later, my 8th graders ordered cheese-less pizza for their surprpise and it was super sweet of them and quite delicious! Throwing hot sauce on it helped, a ton. My students in Queens bought vegan dark chocolate and watched me eat all of as I taught in small groups. I mean, why deny myself? With this being said, you CAN train your students to be more mindful and compassionate as eaters. In Harlem. In the Bronx. In your house. Let me show you how:
HOW TO VEGANIZE YOUR CLASSROOM IN SEVEN EASY WAYS:
- Bring in some of your signature vegan dishes for a classroom celebration. I brought in my vegan chili and students licked the bowl. And passed lots of gas.
- Instead of gelatin filled candy, try the ALREADY vegan (gelatin, carmine color, and confectioner’s glaze free) commercial ones. Check out this list: http://www.peta.org/living/food/25-vegan-halloween-candies/
- Swap out non vegan items with vegan ones. I use almond milk and coconut milk creamer all the time for my hot chocolate parties. No milk was left.
- Take a field trip to a local garden or grocery store and show them what they can eat with a kinder perpesctive. I took my students to the local farmer’s market, Harlem Grown ran by Mr. Tony, and Pathmark’s produce department.
- Bring in random snacks and have students munch on them as they learn. I’ve tried out hummus and veggies, tofu cream cheese, homemade cupcakes and scones, and chips and salsa. All vegan. All devoured.
- Use history to teach how people ate and grew from the land. For example, we made Mayan hot chocolate (no milk involved), civil war pan fried potatoes, and homemade vegan biscuits.
- Bring in a guest speaker to educate your students around healthy living and healthy choices; preferably vegan or vegetarian.
There are a lot more ways to engage students in more compassionate practices. I just started two new residencies in the Bronx and I can’t wait to try all of these on them! Access to healthy food is important and conversion to veganism isn’t the goal. Exposing them to it early so they can make informed decisions is all I want to do. I choose to empower them to be conscious eaters. Communities of color deserve healthy choices and organic ingredients just like the youth in affluent neighborhoods and even more so. Why does kombucha have to be associated with a hipster or wealth? I’d rather teach them how to make their own and include the benefits of doing it their way. What if we could foster healthy choices right within our own communities. It’d be pretty amazing, don’t you think?
What are some other ways you’ve veganized your classroom or just exposed your students or little ones to vegan recipes? Write your ways in the comment section below. I’d love to hear from you all!
IG: @berryberrystylish & @berryandco