Introducing Our July Hero: Chrissa Carlson, Food Educator at Hampstead Hill Academy

  • Hero Stories
  • July 18, 2011
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Nominated by Richard Chisolm

Written and Submitted by: Matt Hornbeck, Principal, Hampstead Hill Academy, Baltimore City, Maryland

As the principal at Hampstead Hill Academy (www.hha47.org), I write to share my Lunch Box Hero story. Chrissa Carlson is our fulltime Food Educator. HHA is a public charter school serving 625 students in grades pre-K through 8 in the Canton neighborhood of Baltimore City. Chrissa is a true foodie with a passion for gardening and cooking that she shares with hundreds of young students on a daily basis. She graduated summa cum laude with a degree in marine biology from the University of Maryland and holds a Master’s degree in ecology from the University of Georgia. 

Hampstead Hill is grateful for Chrissa’s contributions and to have such a robust nutrition program that touches every person in the building. She has a kitchen classroom and a full teaching load each day. Among her many roles, Chrissa is the positive, enthusiastic faculty sponsor for the Organic Gardening Club, the Culinary Arts Club and Chairperson of the schoolwide Wellness Committee. 

Chrissa invites guest chefs to work with our students and coordinates with the Center for Sustainable Living at Hopkins to engage graduate students in the classroom level work.  She is the mastermind behind tasty and healthy Community Dinners each year that are prepared by the Culinary Arts Club students.  Chrissa manages a $50,000 Fresh Fruits and Vegetables grant from the Maryland State Department of Education that provides a snack such as ripe and nutritious peaches, pears, kiwi and strawberries to every student at Hampstead Hill at least three times a week.       

As part of the Food for Life curriculum that Chrissa adapted from Dr. Antonia Demas’s Food is Elementary curriculum, students learn about good kitchen hygiene, how to follow a recipe, all about nutrition and the benefits of a healthy diet as well as the difference between “sometimes foods” and “anytime foods.”  As part of their school day, students discover other cultures through food and actually prepare recipes such as guacamole, stir fry, sushi, tabouli, and blue mashed potatoes.  The Food for Life program, under Chrissa’s outstanding leadership, not only improves the way students feel, behave and perform in class but serves as a recruitment tool for prospective families and staff who have heard about her work.   

Chrissa writes a column in the monthly parent newsletter promoting healthy eating and noting some of her favorite recipes for parents to try at home with their children. Chrissa regularly speaks with faculty and local partners about the importance of nutrition and wellness in our lives. She is particularly engaging because she recognizes that different people have different perspectives about food. For Chrissa, the work is not about making judgments. It’s all about education and not being afraid to try new things.    

Please see the video links below describing how you can start an organic garden at your child’s school from the University of Maryland’s Extensions series.  Both videos feature Chrissa and offer clear advice on how to make healthy foods part of any curriculum. For further information on Hampstead Hill’s programs, please contact Chrissa at 410-396-9146 or chrissacarlson@gmail.com or Principal Matt Hornbeck at 410-591-3911 (cell) or jmhornbeck@bcps.k12.md.us.     

Hampstead Hill Academy is operated by the Baltimore Curriculum Project (www.baltimorecp.org)

Check out these amazing videos below to see Chrissa in action and learn how to turn a school garden at YOUR school from dream to reality!

How to Start a School Garden

School Gardens

And remember we are always looking for school food heroes! If someone in your life is doing great work in the school food realm – be sure to tell us about them!

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