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The Perfect Recipe for Student Success

The Perfect Recipe for Student Success

Kathryn Wilson | Tonic

Wellness in the Schools and the Greenhouse Project have perfected the recipe for kids’ success.

Before Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, there was already a rebellion brewing in Manhattan. In 2005, former teacher and principal Nancy Easton co-founded Wellness in the Schools (with Kirsten Brashares and Rachel Tore) to demand healthy food in public schools. “One plate at a time. One school at a time. That’s been our motto from the beginning,” Easton said.

In 2008, two mothers Sidsel Robards and Manuela Zamora took their fight one step further and began the Greenhouse Project, a literal greenhouse on top of Public School 333 where kids grow their own vegetables through hydro- and aquaponics. Monday night, the two nonprofits came together with 550 of their supporters to taste dishes from 25 N.Y.C. restaurants and raise money for their causes.

“I’m a child of New York. I was born and brought up here, went to public schools here, and this [the science and health initiative] is much better than where I was!” Lauren Bacall, mother-in-law to Robards, told Tonic. “To have children at an early age involved in projects like this is extraordinary because it’s fun for them…. I think it gives them a sense of making a contribution and being part of something that’s new … something that they can understand, which is three-quarters of the problem because nobody understands anything these days. I think the little ones will have to show us the way, much more than the — what is laughingly known as the grown-ups.”

But it was the grown-ups who bid on items like a helicopter ride with Cameron Diaz and Sting’s autographed guitar to raise more than $155,000 (split 50/50) for both programs. Bill Telepan (at left with students at PS 87), chef of the eponymous Upper West Side restaurant and mastermind behind the Wellness in the Schools menu, served a chilled carrot soup to passersby. It was one of the healthier options offered that evening — Levain Bakery’s chocolate chip cookies, while scrumptious, are highly caloric.

“Fifty to 80 percent of the calories kids eat, they get from school,” Telepan said. “I put in a refrigerated salad bar at PS 87, and the day I set it up, I was surrounded by kids. They eat it! I think the general perception is they don’t. Part of that is the parents’ fault. Kids don’t need to eat chicken fingers all the time.”

To show their support, NYC Department of Education’s SchoolFood had a booth at the fundraiser, featuring garbanzo bean salad, coleslaw and a black bean and corn mixture. Telepan, whose daughter attends public school, says they have a lot working against them to provide healthy alternatives for school lunches.

“They get $1 to spend per kid. They have limited staff and kitchen space. I get that it’s just easier for them to reheat,” Telepan said.

In the fall of 2010, Wellness in the Schools will operate in 20 schools and continue to focus on healthy food, exercise and with the help of the Greenhouse Project, the environment. The first greenhouse is currently being built on PS 333’s rooftop and by September, students will grow lettuces, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, eggplant and squash. They’ll also recycle rainwater and compost their waste.

“American teens rank 21st to their peers around the world,” Robards, whose sons attend public school, said. “That’s a scary statistic. I think it’s really important to teach our kids science [of agriculture] and to be sustainable, or else America is going to start importing scientists.”

Like her mother-in-law said, the kids are the future and with Wellness in the Schools and the Greenhouse Project taking hold, it’s looking bright.

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