Working Alongside Community Educators

– By Jackie Choffologo

The day was finally here. Every intern’s most enjoyable rotation (so I had heard)- community nutrition with FSNE! I was so excited to get out into the community and see how nutrition science was explained to the public. Before I dive into the many incredible experiences I had during my two weeks at FSNE, let me lay the groundwork for what this program is all about.

What is FSNE?

FSNE stands for the Food Supplement Nutrition Education Program run out of the University of Maryland Extension Office. In other states, this program is called SNAP-Ed and compliments the benefits that SNAP recipients receive. FSNE provides nutrition education targeted at SNAP recipients and SNAP-eligible community members. FSNE works with literacy centers, local food banks, soup kitchens, WIC offices, senior centers, community centers, neighborhood groups, and homeless shelters around the community. All of the lesson plans, recipes, and resources used by FSNE are publicly available on their website.

My Community Interest

Teaching has always held a special place in my heart since my mom is an elementary school teacher. When I was younger, she tried to convince me to become an educator because of my love for office supplies and color coordinated notebooks. As it turns out, I didn’t have to choose between nutrition and teaching. Nutrition and teaching go hand-in-hand! Nearly every nutrition job, from an acute clinical practice to research, involves disseminating nutrition principles. The times when I can talk to someone about nutrition and see them take a genuine interest in the information are the among the most rewarding for me.

My interest in community nutrition stems from high school I was able to help lead a healthy cooking class for third graders. My team and I lead lessons on food safety, properly using kitchen equipment, and of course, how to make easy and delicious recipes! Watching the kids have fun  in the kitchen was incredible to see. I was sure I was going to have the same feeling when I was out in the community with FSNE.

Projects

On our first day, my internship partner, Isabella, and I reported to the FSNE state office in Columbia, MD. We received a list of projects to work on including blogs, Facebook posts, and reviewing curriculum. One of the first things I noticed about the office was every door was open! People were collaborating and sharing experiences throughout the entire day. While Isabella and I had our own office to work in, everyone was approachable and willing to answer any questions we had.

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Our ice cream in a bag activity at the Fall Fest event

Fall Fest Event

One of the most memorable educator shadowing days was at the Fall Fest in Oregon Ridge Park. While driving to Oregon Ridge Park, I was awestruck by the natural beauty of western Maryland. The scenic back-roads reminded me of the twisty-turvy roads in my hometown of Chadds Ford. Our first stop was the county FSNE office across from the park. We filled up coolers with ice and milk for the “ice cream in a bag” activity we were going to lead with the students. Entering the park was like taking a step back in time. There were older houses that were currently being used for administration with an old apple press out front and a fire pit to the other side.

That day we were working with a FSNE educator at an “ice cream in a bag” station that was sure to be a crowd pleaser. This event offered Baltimore students an opportunity to engage in outdoor activities on a day they had off from school. Each school group rotated through nine stations, and they were with us for roughly 25 minutes. We had a lot to pack in during those 25 minutes!

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Getting warmed up before making ice cream!

The students would huddle around the table for a quick lesson before we dove into the activity. Isabella and I explained how ice cream is a “sometimes” food since it is high in sugar and fat. However, that day was a special occasion, so we were enjoying a “sometimes” food. We then drew the connection between food as energy, and exercise as a way to burn off excess energy. And what better way to exercise than taking a nature hike! We led the kids on a 10-minute walk in the park and they were especially enthusiastic whenever they saw a butterfly or squirrel. Then we went through the steps on how to make this magical ice cream in a bag. The students really liked shaking the bag, some even danced while the cream congealed! But the real fun was when they were able to taste test their science experiment. There were a lot of laughs and smiles at our station.

FSNE was an incredible experience. I was able to observe the dedication educators have for the community they serve. I saw students’ faces light up when they saw the FSNE educator walk into the classroom. And most importantly, I saw how nutrition education was making an impact in these communities. Students retained information they had learned in years past about MyPlate and the basic food groups. They remembered what made a food a “sometimes” food versus an “anytime” food. Being able to combine nutrition education with fun interactive activities is what made this rotation so enjoyable.

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