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Ledyard Charter School and Two Medical Students Team Up to Investigate Nutrition and Science

  • Para-educator Marta Bird, right, hands student Mike Bogle, 16, of Lebanon, left, a piece of foil for his sandwich as behavior coach Alison Whitehead, middle, packs up leftover lunch food at the Ledyard Charter School in Lebanon, N.H., Wednesday, February 1, 2017. Bogle said that after taking the nutrition and cooking class last year he cut back on the junk food he eats and began to enjoy the taste of fresh vegetables, often making salads for dinner.(Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Dartmouth medical students Emily Dollar, left, and Emily Georges, right, lead students in a group quiz at the beginning of their nutrition and cooking class at the Ledyard Charter School in Lebanon, N.H., Wednesday, February 1, 2017. The students are teaching the class as part of Rural Health Scholars Program. Ledyard Charter School teacher Chris Allen is at left. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Dartmouth medical student Emily Dollar, back right, works with Ledyard Charter School student Jenna Lambert, 17, back left, on an exercise in which students identify a food borne bacteria based on a case study at the Ledyard Charter School in Lebanon, N.H., Wednesday, February 1, 2017. Nevin Dadmun, 16, of Lebanon, front left, and Sean Lewis, 15, of West Lebanon, front right, work as a team on their case study during the nutrition and cooking class. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Skylar McAinney, 17, of Lebanon, chooses a clementine from a box of the fruit during lunch at the Ledyard Charter School Wednesday, February 1, 2017. Students made their lunches from a variety of ingredients after the nutrition class. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Nevin Dadmun, 16, of Lebanon, eats canned peaches during lunch at the Ledyard Charter School in Lebanon, N.H. after a nutrition and cooking class taught by students from the Geisel School of Medicine Wednesday, February 1, 2017. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Monday, February 13, 2017

In the kitchen, about half a dozen teenagers were cutting vegetables for salad, slicing rolls for sandwiches and peeling clementines for the rest of the 40-member student body before a recent Wednesday lunchtime.

Across a narrow hallway, about 10 other students were following medical students Emily Dollar and Emily Georges into the computer lab for 45 minutes of research and discussion on food contamination.

And on a bulletin board near the main office, a couple of dozen sticky notes announced students’ responses to the sentence starting: “If I were hungry I could not” …

“Live,” one student had declared.

“Dance,” wrote another.

Other responses ranged from “be nice,” “support myself and others,” “learn,” “think” and “chill” to “care for my animals,” “care for my son” and “restrain from murder.”

Welcome to the Ledyard Charter School in Lebanon, where students and faculty and community partners are putting nutrition at the center of the learning and growing process. After several years of gathering enough food to help students focus in the classroom, the school now is relying on students to prepare that food for each other, while simultaneously building the math, science and health lessons they’re learning in the kitchen into the curriculum.

“When I was volunteering here with a group for girls, two of whom had just become young mothers, the subject of food kept coming up as something we felt needed to be covered,” Dollar, in her third year at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine and a volunteer in Geisel’s Rural Health Scholars program, recalled before the food-safety lesson. “So when (head of school) John (Higgins) mentioned that he was hoping to be able to provide lunch and breakfast to all the students, I immediately knew I wanted to help him out.”

Higgins said recently that more than half of Ledyard students belong to families living at or below the poverty level. To address their nutritional needs, the school’s leadership and faculty in recent years has been building partnerships with such programs as the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth initiative Upper Valley Healthy Eating Active Living (UV Heal), Friends Feeding Friends (an initiate of the nonprofit Friends of Mascoma Foundation) and the Upper Valley Haven, which contributes groceries from its food shelf for school-hours meals, as well as weekend care packages.

Those efforts led the school in 2015 to introduce a cooking and nutrition class in which Wendy Tucker, a teacher of art and English, found herself overseeing the students’ preparation of breakfasts and lunch for the rest of the school, as well as weaving in math and science lessons related to food preparation.

On the last day of school in 2016, Tucker recalled how someone had started bringing in a crock pot of simmering food for students to dip into, and found “that it would be gone every single day.

“Then we noticed that the kids were learning a lot better when they were eating.”

Those observations prompted Higgins, who became head of the charter school in the summer of 2014, to talk with Dollar about beefing up the cooking and nutrition class. This past summer, as part of the Rural Health Scholars program, Dollar and fellow third-year medical student Emily Georges crafted a curriculum that includes providing students with case studies on different health and nutrition issues.

“You learn how it all fits together,” math and science teacher Chris Allen, who took over the cooking and nutrition class for 2016-2017, said during Dollar and Georges’ monthly visit on Feb. 1. “Chemistry and baking go together. We learn about the biological effects of protein and carbohydrates on the body.”

During their most recent classroom session, Dollar and Georges were guiding students, sorted into teams of two, through a segment on diagnosing and preventing contamination of food. One pairing took a case study on E. coli bacteria, another salmonella and yet another norovirus, the kind of stomach bug that often sweeps through schools, cruise ships and other tightly-packed locations.

Reading about E. coli, Grace Moore asked what foods are particularly susceptible to coming into contact with the bacteria, which comes from feces.

“Beef,” one student replied.

“Salads,” said another.

“Water,” a third declared.

Watching from the hallway, Allen smiled at the sights and sounds of the students responding to the medical students’ prompts and focusing on a lesson that could come across as dry and academic in a lecture from a textbook.

“Having them here gives some credibility to what I’m trying to teach,” Allen said. “Not all of the students believe their teacher knows what he’s talking about.

“It’s not just me, so they tend to do their work” for Dollar and Georges.

Some even take their work with them: At the end of the February lesson and on the way across the hall to lunch, one of the students asked his project partner whether they should hang onto their case-study materials on salmonella poisoning.

“Yeah, like NCIS,” Sean Lewis replied, referring to CBS television’s stable of dramas about the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. “DA-dum!”

Any time a lesson sticks is a victory for Dollar, who grew up in upstate New York’s Hudson Valley, and for Georges, who was raised in the suburbs south of Boston, earned a master’s degree in education and taught for a year in an urban high school before switching to medicine.

Dollar, whose research for medical school includes a focus on women’s health and gender biology, said she first started volunteering as a co-teacher of a poetry course at the charter school during her junior year of undergraduate studies at Dartmouth.

“The school did such a wonderful job of providing a flexible, engaging education for the students, many of whom had struggled in a more traditional academic setting,” Dollar wrote during an exchange of follow-up emails on Sunday.

If Dollar harbored any doubts about the time and energy she invests in working with a sometimes challenging group of students, on top of her medical studies, a girl in the nutrition class dispelled them during an exercise on setting personal health goals during the fall 2016 semester.

“We did it by encouraging them to think about a goal that they were already working toward, like getting a job or doing well in school,” Dollar said. “One student expressed to me that if she ate a healthy breakfast every morning, she really believed she would have a better day and be more focused in school. It was a connection she made all by herself, and it was really cool to hear her articulate it.”

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.