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IRC and FoodCorps bring garden education to DeKalb elementary students

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Through our partnership with FoodCorps—part of the AmeriCorps service network—the IRC in Atlanta has been able to expand our gardening and nutrition education programming into two DeKalb County elementary schools, in addition to our work at Clarkston High School.

Our incredible 2020-21 FoodCorps service member, Laura Diaz-Villaquiran, adapted quickly to virtual teaching and currently provides culturally appropriate, garden-based lessons to over 150 DeKalb County K-3 students at Indian Creek Elementary School and Idlewood Elementary School—a new addition for 2020.

Laura Diaz-Villaquiran, our 2020-21 FoodCorps Service Member, in the Indian Creek Elementary School Garden.

Laura is originally from Popayán, Colombia and has a BA in Anthropology from Georgia State University. “Over a decade ago, I was resettled in Atlanta by the IRC alongside my parents and my little brother,” Laura shared. “It is really encouraging to be back supporting IRC programming and working with the refugee community. My career and academic interests include Indigenous studies, cultural heritage preservation, cultural resource management and culturally sensitive education. In my spare time I enjoy hiking, foraging wild foods, learning about medicinal plants and fungi, swimming, doing yoga and spending time with my family.”

FoodCorps places trained service members in schools across the nation for a year of service focusing on hands-on lessons, healthy school meals and a creating a schoolwide culture of health. This is the IRC in Atlanta’s fourth year with a FoodCorps service member on staff, which has allowed our existing garden education and nutrition programming to reach even more young people in the Clarkston and DeKalb County communities.

Laura incorporates kinesthetic activities into her lessons and often focuses on mindfulness, art and movement, always in a culturally sensitive manner.

At Indian Creek, Laura continues the IRC’s partnership with Catholic Charities Atlanta’s afterschool program for refugee youth by hosting a weekly ‘Sprout Scouts’ Virtual Garden Club. At Idlewood Elementary—our new site for 2020-21—Laura teaches 45-minute virtual lessons, four days a week, for all kindergarten and first grade students. She incorporates kinesthetic activities into her lessons—providing supplies for children to explore at home—and often focuses on mindfulness, art and movement, always in a culturally sensitive manner. “I see culturally grounded education as an important avenue for creating more equitable education for all,” Laura shared.

Laura incorporates kinesthetic activities into her lessons—providing supplies for children to explore at home.

Laura’s work at Idlewood Elementary School extends further than her virtual lessons. She is working to build a lasting outdoor learning space that will allow teachers and students to spend more time outside together for years to come. As a recipient of the ALFI Orchard Project grant, Laura worked alongside the IRC’s Youth Food Justice (YFJ) interns from Clarkston High School to plant fruit trees and bushes in the Idlewood school garden. Our hard-working YFJ interns also built several raised beds for the school and helped to prepare all of the IRC-supported school gardens to get ready for spring planting.  

Our hard-working Youth Food Justice interns built several raised beds for the Idlewood Elementary School Garden.

Laura’s great work is being recognized widely. A video lesson she recorded on how to involve students in spring garden preparation was shared at a recent Georgia Organics webinar, and she has received generous donations of seeds and supplies from organizations including One Cool Earth and Seed Savers Exchange. We are so grateful for FoodCorps and Laura’s dedicated service and for all of the organizations and partners who support this important work.

To learn more about the work of the IRC in Atlanta and for information on how you can get involved with the IRC as a donor or volunteer, please contact Development Manager, Kalie Lasiter, at Kalie.Lasiter [at] Rescue.org or 678-636-8941.

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