Our Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) shifted during the pandemic, just as everyone did. Last summer I had the opportunity to work with Bristol and New Britain HRA programs teaching their summer youth employment program. Their Program Director asked me to create a five-week virtual class, with 16 hours’ worth of work per week for their students. We had 20 students on each program. The program started three weeks after I received the request and I had to quickly think about how to best teach EFNEP nutrition education virtually to teenagers!
I was lucky to have a UConn student intern, Autumn Blasi, to help with the program! Although we never met in person, we worked together virtually to create a one of kind program!
I learned and used Google classroom to create meaningful lessons for students. Each week students had to watch videos, research, and complete project-based assignments. Students had to photograph their gardens each week to show progress. Students researched how to do different exercises and had to create beginners’ guides. Every week we had a virtual WebEx class.
Each week of the EFNEP/HRA program was theme-based on the growth of a plant. Week one was seeds and roots, week two was stems, week three was leaves, week four was flowers, week five was fruits and vegetables. Each week students had to find foods and recipes based on the week’s theme. They also had to research and report on nutrient and calorie content, selection, and storage of foods from the weeks theme. I decided to do three “distribution” days every other week, that gave the students the tools to do hands-on, project-based learning at home. I also divided the program into four concentration areas: gardening, nutrition, fitness, and future self with four hours of work in each. We had the students create SMART goals for each concentration area. Students had to photograph their gardens each week to show progress. Students researched how to do different exercises and had to create beginners’ guides. Every week we had four separate virtual WebEx classes with different groups of students. On distribution weeks we had a hands-on virtual class where we made recipes together.
In the beginning of the process I thought students would want connection to other students and tried to create group projects. I also thought students would want to be “seen” through the process, but they usually did not want to have their camera on. It was always their choice! It seemed that they liked the affirmation of the grading process best. They strived to do the work and wanted to make sure I SAW it. They were polite and engaged and asked for more work! They would ask for the next weeks work if they finished the present weeks work. They started to become more confident and comfortable with the process over the last weeks. I learned a lot during the process. I am grateful for the project!
On week one, we scheduled a safe, socially distanced distribution to students. Each student received a “EFNEP cooking kit”- with a meat thermometer, measuring cups, recipe books, and an insulated grocery bag. They also received a “container pizza garden”- students had a chance to identify each plant and plant their containers, it was like 40 – 10 minute lessons from afar! These distribution were done in the community at two different locations.
On week three we distributed the ingredients for overnight oats, and a fear factor food (spinach) to do our online recipe together. We had many technical difficulties that day and our intern stepped in to “show” the recipe because I lost video! We had the students “use your oats again,” and use your fear factor food and post the pictures. The students did an amazing job!
On week five we distributed prizes and the ingredients for our last WebEx virtual recipe, ” Salsa Pasta.” I had hoped to use the vegetables from the student’s container gardens, but the plants the agency provided were very small. I had to replace some students’ plants during the program due to critters eating them! This was my most successful video and audio! I finally figured out how to just use my office for the recipe. I made the recipe four times – two groups on Wednesday and two groups on Thursday. I also gave students other ways to make the recipe into soup and macaroni and cheese.
I heard from parents who said they benefitted from the class, in addition to their child. Especially downloading a step tracker and food diary app. They liked the SMART goals and saw improvement in some of their children’s behavior and confidence.
Our student intern, Autumn added so much to the program! She added assignments for the students on body image, diabetes, how to dress for an interview, and critiquing nutrition information on social media.
Article by Heather Pease, UConn EFNEP Educator