Action Brief: The Power of Student Voice and Choice

Integrating whole child into food education

The cover of the report

Schools across the country have been challenged this year as communities continue to grapple with COVID-19 and its effects on families, our public institutions, and the ways we interact and engage with one another. Communities of color and families living in poverty have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, and all students have faced trauma by disruptions to their daily lives. Students will be feeling the effects of this pandemic for a long time.
FoodCorps believes that this is a key moment to ground K-12 education in human development. We believe this is possible by taking a whole child approach to learning that accounts for the many different ways in which young people grow and thrive. This brief is primarily intended for anyone working with students in a school environment—particularly in the classroom, garden, and cafeteria—to better understand the role of student agency and whole child perspectives in food and nutrition education. 

What is whole child?

For students to thrive in today’s world, they need an educational experience that recognizes their unique identities and addresses their comprehensive needs. Academic development is critical, but it’s only one part of the equation. For students to show up for class ready to learn, they must be supported and nourished physically, socially, emotionally, and cognitively. That’s why FoodCorps is committed to a whole child approach to education.
A whole child education ensures that every student is healthy, able to learn in a physically and emotionally safe environment, engaged in their own learning and with their broader community, supported by caring adults, and academically challenged (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014). This holistic approach is needed as millions of students around the country continue to experience personal and community trauma—including social isolation, economic hardship, and health crises—as the result of an ongoing pandemic that is exacerbating long-standing inequities. Supporting students today and setting them up to succeed in the long term means helping students grow as their full selves.

Why is healthy food crucial for whole child education?

Healthy food plays an integral role in serving the whole child. It nourishes students physically and emotionally, can be used to create hands-on opportunities for social, emotional, and academic development, and connects kids to their communities, culture, and history. 

Why student voice and choice?

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is a key component to supporting the whole child. One powerful way educators and school staff can support social and emotional learning is by offering authentic opportunities for all students to express their voices and make choices that directly impact their experience in the classroom, cafeteria, and garden. Giving children choices is proven to increase intrinsic motivation, effort, task performance, and perceived competence. And research shows that this active engagement and sense of agency can lead to improved academic performance. The evidence is clear that by creating opportunities for student voice and choice, we communicate to students that their voices and perspective matter, and set them up on a path to success.
This action brief was developed with support from sweetgreen.