A landmark 2013 report by Measure for America found that in many areas of Detroit, over 30% of young Detroiters are neither working nor in school, the highest rate in the country. This rate is five or six times higher than in many of the surrounding suburbs. The cry for reconnecting our youth has been met with several national programs, which offer offer a mixture of vocational training, work experience, education, and youth development. DFA cooks with the same blend of ingredients, but we engage students while they are still in school, emphasize youth leadership, and surround them with supportive networks to ensure lasting success. Our place-based focus on social entrepreneurship contextualizes learning with real-world relevance. Rather than rely on didactic knowledge transfer, we call on more powerful motivators such as project ownership, peer acceptance, community connectivity, and earned wages to inspire disconnected youth to care and become change agents in their communities. And it works! Students not only report better health outcomes and familiarity with cooking and nutrition, but they also report greater pride in being from the City of Detroit and greater hope in their futures and in their abilities to achieve the goals they set. As these students grow as holistic leaders and activists, they become uniquely positioned to transform themselves, their peers, and their surroundings.
Specifically, our programming is based on the Achieve-Connect-Thrive (ACT) Skills Framework, which evidence suggests prepares students to succeed in school, college, and careers. Achieving refers to developing the math and literacy proficiencies necessary to succeed academically; Connecting refers to building relationship skills that help students succeed socially; and Thriving refers to the perseverance, self-efficacy, and resilience necessary for youth to maintain the effort to succeed. We target each domain in the following way:
Achieving: Rather than re-iterate math lessons learned in school, we use real-life examples to deepen students’ understanding. To start, students convert unit measurements in the kitchen in order to follow recipes. They learn to calculate ingredient costs per unit as well as the necessary retail price to ensure sustainable product margins. They analyze the cost benefit of ordering in bulk versus buying from the corner store, local versus imported, and organic versus conventional. They learn to check their cash bag against the inventory sheet: “If you started with $75, and you sold 50 Z’muffins for $2, 30 Fruit Diplomas for $2.50, and $10 of merchandise was purchased through credit card, how much money should you have in the bag?” “And if the Cost of Goods Sold (COGS) for Z’muffins was $1, Fruit Diplomas $1.50, and Labor was $7.50/hour for 2 hours, what was your total profit on the day?” Students bring this understanding to the myriad of sourcing and business decisions they face as entrepreneurs—from packaging to tablecloths to business cards.
Connecting: The Food Academy relies heavily on a place-based and asset-based approach. While we emphasize neighborhood pride through assets such as farmers markets, gardens, and independent businesses, we also take students outside their comfort zones and expose them to signature assets throughout the City, such as Eastern Market, Earthworks Urban Farm, Allied Media Conference, Recycle Here, Campus Martius, Lafayette Greens, Avalon Bakery, Motor City Java House, and others. During the summer, students are mentored by their local business mentors once per week, and during the school year, students enjoy a kitchen and business workshop from their local business mentor once per month. Community leaders are also frequently invited to visit the classroom, or are asked to host us during a field trip, so our students can deepen their connections and knowledge through the experience of others. In addition to relationships outside their schools, small cohort sizes allow students to form tight-knit, constructive bonds with each other and their teacher. They will learn about each other as leaders, as teammates, and as community activists. In this way, we build out students’ pride in themselves, their families, their neighborhoods, and their City—now and in the future.
Thriving: Values-based leadership development is a core function of the program. In addition to understanding themselves as leaders, students will learn to work in teams and manage goals and projects that reflect and enhance their values. They will delegate responsibilities, set goals, teach friends and family about cooking and nutrition, speak confidently and effectively, advocate for a specific stance on food justice, and take a values-based project from start to finish.
For more information on the ACT Framework, Click Here.