California Educator

January / February 2017

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"Michaelpaul became the Pied Piper, pushing for schoolwide involvement," says Terrel, who is now athletics director but remains a booster. "Now there are 16 high schools and middle schools involved." While there are other gleaning projects in operation around the state, Mendoza says, Har vesting Hop e i s th e only stu- dent-driven program. " The big reason I became a teacher is because I know the potential our youth have. O ur stud ent s are an overlo o ked resource," says Mendoza, Tulare Joint Union High School District Teachers Association (Tulare JUHSDTA). Over 20 to 30 weekends throughout the year, as many as 300 students sign up online to pick kiwis, pomegranates, oranges, blue- berries, tangerines and corn around Tulare and nearby Porterville, Exeter and Visalia. Even with little experience, the teenagers may glean 15,000 pounds of produce in a single day. Local businesses have contributed to the effort by donating equipment and water, while the local FoodLink food bank and Tulare County Area Transit often arrange free transportation for students to the har vesting sites. Other campus groups have contributed to the campaign as well. At Mission Oak, for example, the Future Farmers of America planted three acres of sweet corn to add to the harvest. Terrel makes use of his Class A driver's license to haul the produce from field to food bank in his truck. For some, like Mendoza, the gleaning project has turned into a family affair. "I have a 5-year-old and 10-year-old who get to see fruit and where it comes from," he says. "My dad and uncle were both farmworkers. ey have become our most dedicated volunteers, now that they are picking fruit for a totally different reason. It's bringing generations together." Across town at Tulare Western High School, science teacher Leonard Houser has brought his students into the har - vesting fold as well. He points out that the program has garnered several awards, and the students even received a standing ova- tion on the floor of the state Senate. But the major reward of the program has really been the impact on the students themselves. "ere's an intimacy in picking fruit," says Houser, also a Tulare JUHSDTA member. "ere is no more direct way to contribute than helping people in hunger." Houser and Terrel note that the project has forged a camaraderie among students at rival schools who sport their own Har- vesting Hope school T-shirts. Perhaps just as important, it's also raised awareness of and empathy for their many fellow students who are food insecure themselves. " It a b s o l u t e ly h a s m a d e k i d s m o re aware," says Ben Cooper, Tulare City Teach- ers Association, a third-grade teacher at Alpine Vista Elementary School, who even takes his own young children along on har- vests. "We have students who come every single time. " They know they are giving back when they give to FoodLink." For Sarah Ramirez, who is now execu- tive director of FoodLink, the school-based Harvesting Hope project is one of many programs that include food collection and distribution, nutritional cooking classes, lun ch prog ram s, an d c ommunity gar - dens. But it looms large in bringing people together to improve the health of the com- munity, especially the students. "I know this project has made a differ- ence in their lives," she says. Mission Oak's Michaelpaul Mendoza explains how Harvesting Hope remains a student-driven project. There's an intimacy in picking fruit. There is no more direct way to contribute than helping people in hunger." — Leonard Houser, Tulare JUHSDTA Sarah Ramirez is executive director of FoodLink, which provides food and nutrition education. were giving people fruit who couldn't afford to buy it." The program expanded even further under Mission Oak High School histor y teacher Michaelpaul Mendoza, who in 2014 tasked students in his cultural history class with developing a student service-learning project. e students chose to team up with Be Healthy Tulare's gleaning project and established Harvesting Hope as a school- based campaign. H U N G R Y S T U D E N T S 38

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