EVERY DAY is a new adventure for Olivia Girard, the new employee for the after-school program.
Olivia is very friendly, has long, light-brown hair, and says she loves working with children. She recently graduated from Mohawk High School, where she was on the honor roll, played tennis, and performed in three plays.
She said she enjoyed acting and singing very much. She was the green bird girl in “Suessical the Musical” and had roles in William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and in “All Talk.”
Soon she’s going to be studying at Greenfield Community College to learn more about sociology and cultural anthropology.
“Sociology is the study of people; looking deeper into people’s values and beliefs past and present,” she told the Flow.
At BSE she is working with After-School Director Raelene Lemione. Together they look after 12 to 30 kids every day.
WE WONDEREDwhat goes into the school meals program at BSE. One dayrecently after the lunch rush Flow reporter Diana Yaseen and adviser John Snyder sat down with Cafeteria Manager Sonya Hamdan to find out.
Diana: Where does the cafeteria food come from?
Sonya: Some comes from the government. Every month we receive a list and can choose from what’s on that list. There might be some hamburger or chicken, frozen vegetables, canned fruits, lots of things like that, and I’ll order from there. Also I order through a company called Thurston for breads and anything else we need, all the vegetables… The milk and the yogurt come from All-Star Dairy.
Diana: How do you decorate?
Sonya: I bought the decorations myself. The Christmas ones, some of them, Mrs. Shearer brings in from her home. All the Thanksgiving decorations are mine that I bring in from home. We lower those three strings and I can hang things from the ceiling. I think it makes it more festive to have something over everyone. And then I cut out with my Cricket machine different things to put on the bulletin boards. If I see something on sale that fits the theme I buy it.
Diana: How much food do you serve every day?
Sonya: Today was chicken nuggets and peas and carrots. We served 128 kids and so many adults. That’s why lunch counts are so important, so we know for sure. I have an idea, but right now we have a lot of kids who are out sick. So we need to have an accurate count. On a day like today when we have a per-piece item, like chicken nuggets or hot dogs, I need to know how many kids are eating so I can do that much — and I always cook a little extra. Kids come in late, or don’t sign up for whatever reason, and we have enough. Every chicken nugget is counted when we put it on the tray.
For the Thanksgiving meal we served 247 [diners].
Diana: And everyone else brings in their own lunch?
Sonya: There are 260-something kids in the school, so the others bring in their own lunch. Buckland-Shelburne has been a school where a lot of the kids bring their own lunch, consistently, for whatever reason. A third of the kids, anyway. There are some with food allergies, so we eliminated our peanut butter. Now we have SunButter [soy-and-sunflower-based]. That way we don’t have to worry about anyone. And a fair amount of gluten allergies. And there are some kids who just like what their mom or dad packs.
Chicken nuggets is one of the most popular lunches, along with breadsticks, pizza, and French toast sticks…
Diana: Fruit is popular.
Sonya: Every month different things come in that the kids like: frozen strawberries, some cheeses, canned and frozen fruit. This list is for the entire district. I write a wishlist for what I would like of those, as the list is for all the schools in the district. If there are only three of something a school isn’t going to get what it wants. But they’re usually pretty good about making options available.
Diana: How about breakfast? How many people?
Sonya: It seems to be 28 to 30 people. We’d like more. But what happens is that when kids come in they like to play on the playground with their friends. They don’t come in and have breakfast, even though it’s free for everyone who has free lunch, or 30 cents for reduced price, and $1. Thirty-six is the highest we’ve had.
Diana: Is there a lot of measuring?
Sonya: There is. Everything has to be measured. For example, when I’m making up the menu, I write down what I would like to do [serve], and then go back though and put in the vegetable component, the fruit component, the grains, the meats, because it has to meet requirements — a half cup (this is for lunch) daily, and a weekly requirement. Each kid for lunch must be offered certain minimum and maximum amounts.
The difference is that, starting this year,  the kids have to go out with ½ cup of fruit — even if they don’t want it or they don’t eat it. They have to go out.
Vegetables: ¾ cup offered every day. Usually that’s ½ cup of one kind and ¼ cup of a fresh. But it has to be 3 ¾ cup per week.
Meat: At least 1 oz. day. We always serve 2; it can be a little more. But it cannot be more than 10 oz. per week.
Grains: 1 oz. That’s why, today, with chicken nuggets, I had to put a piece of bread on. Because the breading on the chicken nuggets did not count up to 1 oz.
And so forth. If you don’t follow these guidelines, when the state inspects you, you will lose all of your commodities that you order from the government; you will lose all of your reimbursements from the government, which is based per meal.
[Referring to guidelines] Here, this is a minimum of 1 oz. Who would give a kid only 1 oz. of meat or meat alternate?
John: Do you see kids having more energy and focus after breakfast and lunch? Do you see that as part as what you do in terms of being in a school setting?
Sonya: I think you’re right. More so, I think we give lunch to some kids who don’t have any lunch at all: No breakfast, no lunch. There are actually kids in this school who would not otherwise have a breakfast or lunch, and sometimes when they go home don’t have a supper either. So that is a sad fact.
Some kids in years prior have come up to me after the Thanksgiving meal and thanked me because they don’t have a Thanksgiving meal at home, never see decorations at home. It’s not the norm but it’s more common than you might think.
JUST AFTER SCHOOL ended back in June I was offered a full-time position as art teacher at Mohawk, and I accepted.
While I am excited about the change and the challenges ahead, I am certainly feeling the bittersweetness of it as I say goodbye to BSE.
For five years I have been lucky enough to work in a fabulous school community with an awesome group of creative young people in a beautiful art studio. We have made lots of spectacular art happen and I have enjoyed every art show immensely as I see the pride of the faces of students and parents alike.
I have grown as an educator here and learned so much from my colleagues and students. Leaving is not easy. Hopefully it’ll only be a matter of time before I get to teach my BSE gang again at Mohawk. Until then, I thank you all for your support of the arts — and of me over the years. I will always be grateful for that.
— Fondly, Rachel Silverman
Asked a bit later
how she was settling in at Mohawk,
Mrs. Silverman told the Flow…
I’m trying a lot of new things and learning a ton about gearing art education toward middle- and high-school students. I miss my elementary school kids a lot, but I’m enjoying the new challenge of creating a rich and meaningful art program at the older level.
I realize that my experiences at BSE and Heath have taught me so much about what is important and developmentally sound in art education and I am really just building on that and taking my practice beyond the sixth-grade year into what comes next.
I’m also piloting a new course next semester and looking forward to launching more in the future.
I feel excited and grateful to be in this community. The kids aren’t as small but they are still pretty sweet, up for trying new things and exploring different ways art can be a part of our lives.
Hence the Quick Chat…
Our staffers wondered what some of their fellow students might have to say on the occasion of Mrs. Silverman taking her new job. We enjoyed taking these photos, and getting the quotes into and out of our reporters’ notebooks…
THE TIMING worked out well on a clear day in late September. The fifth grade had planted garlic. Plans were set for braiding it for sale for next year’s class trip to Nature’s Classroom.
It’s a community effort. Shelburne Falls Farm and Garden had donated that garlic, and retired teacher Karen Eldred worked with a preschool teacher to cut sunflower heads — her students were about to line them up by size.
Timing is the key for success at the school gardens, where Eldred and a passel of school and community volunteers tend to herbs, vegetables, and flowers. There’s a bounty of education here as well as food for the table. Eldred spent a little time with the Flow recently to explain what the school’s eight gardens really grow…
Flow: We always see kids out here. It looks lovely.
Karen: Thank you, it is lovely. Jacqui Goodman’s [sixth-grade] class just came out and we cut up the sunflower stalks and added them to the compost bins; another preschool teacher came out and we decided what to do with the scarlet runner beans that we planted last year on big poles that a storm knocked over. We opened some up and they were just beautiful. And then we went through what she could do with them, whether it was eat them or save them for next year for crafts.
Flow: Do you plan activities class by class, or…
Karen: It works perfect! The timing was really good today. A couple of clases were expecting me, and others I ran into and it just worked. Ms. Funk and I talked about kale — her class is going to harvest kale over the next two weeks and the kitchen is going to make kale chips.
Flow: How is all this organized? Is this all volunteer effort?
Karen: All these beds are put in by the Garden Committee. We still need parents’ support. I’m here as a liaison, working with families and school and the gardens and the teachers.
I’ll do a little work with the kids in the classroom on what’s going to happen — this is instruction time — and with others it’s just random.
The preschool kids happened to just come out and they had their wagon with them. It was just coincidental. And then we took 15 to 20 minutes and did some instruction with them and cut some sunflowers.
Now I’m doing cleanup, which is hard to teach kids to do. This is fall cleanup and I’m just waiting for Becky’s [Becky Ecklund’s fifth-grade] class.
Flow: You said you’re looking for more help. What can community members do to help?
Karen: We’re looking for people to get involved. There are always things that can be donated. Right now we’re looking for bales of hay to mulch the garlic with. But we need a parent representative, which is what Emily Crehan was doing, and had been doing for a year. That would involve making flyers and organizing a date for a work crew. We need someone who can help with fundraising and grant writing – that’s a critical need right now.
We also need supplies and stipends. Red Gate Farm sends people down here and they get a stipend, I get a stipend, and we want to add Emily’s position as a stipend. It’s not a salary; it’s not anywhere near the hours that we work but it recognizes that this can’t be a purely voluntary thing if it’s going to work.
Flow: What are you hoping kids take from all this?
Karen: I want children to understand where their food comes from because children really don’t. I want children to get outside. They don’t get outside anywhere near as much as they should. There’s science involved; there’s math involved. Being able to make connections to the curriculum. Really connecting back to what used to be part of their lives and really isn’t anymore. Children really don’t know where their food comes from; children really aren’t getting outside and getting dirty. They don’t realize what compost is.
Flow: I’m surprised to hear that. I’d think, living around here, more kids would have a sense of the earth.
Karen: There’s a certain amount but it’s not like it used to be, where it was part of life. Now it’s if a family chooses to garden and it’s kind of a hobby. And with some families, yeah, they do still grow their own potatoes and can their own food but there’s a lot who don’t. Everybody used to have a kitchen garden and that’s not true anymore.
Flow: Why is it important for kids, for families, to have this sense?
Karen: Well, it’s educational. It’s lifelong. It’s a lifelong connection to living. If you don’t grow your food, to at least realize when you walk into that supermarket where that potato came from, what the parts of a plant are, that the carrot is actually the root, that you’re actually eating the root… When you’re eating corn you’re eating seeds.
Flow: That’s a great vocabulary to have at your disposal too, to know how you’re supporting yourself with the planted life.
Karen: There’s this whole cycle that continues. We can either help it continue or we can asphalt it over. [Laughs]
Flow: So anyone can help in the gardens here? It doesn’t have to be a school parent or a teacher?
Karen: I’d love some community members. A master gardener would be really cool. I’m self-taught. My grandparents gardened, my mom gardened, I garden. In another lifetime I canned my own food. I worked with adolescents in residential care when I worked as a special-ed teacher and we used to have gardens and chickens and exhibit at the fair. [Those were] hard-core city kids who did really bad things and they’re finding a different part of themselves. Gardens are for everybody. These gardens are for everybody.