WACTC student wins $1,000 grant for farm-to-lunchroom idea

WACTC student wins $1,000 grant for farm-to-lunchroom idea

WACTC student and Cumberland resident Jack Guido holds up the $1,000 grant he won through the AdVenture Capital Innovation Challenge to address a health and wellness challenge in his school. Guido’s idea, “Farming Your Future,” involves setting up internships for students at local farms and offering farm-sourced produce in the cafeteria. (Breeze photo by Lauren Clem)

WOONSOCKET – Jack Guido, a sophomore at the Woonsocket Area Career and Technical Center, has big ideas for how to get students to choose healthy options in the lunchroom. And, thanks to a $1,000 grant he recently took home from a statewide competition, he might be able to see those ideas come to life.

Guido was one of five WACTC health careers students who participated in the AdVenture Capital Innovation Challenge at the Rhode Island Convention Center on March 5. The competition, hosted in partnership with United Healthcare and other corporate sponsors, aims to help students develop creative solutions to challenges in their communities. Over the course of the day, 24 teams competed for $1,000 grants to put their ideas into action.

Students started off by coming up with health and wellness-related challenges within their schools and brainstorming possible solutions with industry and teacher mentors. For Guido, a Cumberland resident, those challenges revolve around healthy options in the cafeteria. The school lunchroom, he said, offers limited healthy options for meals and snacks, and students often pass by the ones that are available. His goal was to make those healthy options more appealing by giving students a firsthand look at where they come from.

“My idea was to get students hands-on and out in the community,” he explained.

Guido’s idea, called “Farming Your Future,” would bring students to local farms to participate in internships and learn the ins and outs of raising vegetables, dairy and other cafeteria-friendly products. Those products would then be made available to students at lunchtime as healthy alternatives. Students, said Guido, would be more likely to choose the farm-sourced healthy options if they had a hand in raising them.

“If they saw it at lunch, they’d be like, that was something that I helped in, so they’d be more apt to pick it or help their friends choose it,” he said.

Guido pitched his idea to a panel of judges during a 60-second, “Shark Tank”-style interview, where it was one of 10 ideas to receive a grant. According to school administrators, the idea still requires some collaboration and input from the local farm community but has promise as a solution to a school-wide problem. Health careers instructor Debra Bacon noted the diverse range of challenges listed by students around the state, including school water quality and mental health awareness.

“It was really interesting, I think, to watch the other ones from the other schools and see what their problems were, because some of them were very different from our school,” she said.

Guido has already started planning for how to implement the program and hopes to use the $1,000 grant to cover transportation and promotional costs. The issue of healthy food options, he said, is especially important in Woonsocket, where 69 percent of high school students were eligible to receive free or reduced lunch in 2017 according to Rhode Island Department of Education data.

“I think it’s really important that this does happen,” he said. “If you don’t know the nutritional value, there’s not much improvement that can be done.”

Other WACTC students who participated in last week’s competition included juniors Justice Coyle and Anna Trang Truong, whose idea for “SnakPaks” involved a vending machine that dispensed healthy options, and sophomores Daliza Reinoso and Zoey Rouleau, whose “Beat the Clock” plan aimed to get students in class on time by offering nutritious breakfast options that could be eaten during first period. According to WACTC Director William Webb, the challenge of getting students to choose healthy also applies in the morning, when many students are late coming back from breakfast in the cafeteria or else skip the school breakfast and stop at Dunkin’ Donuts on the way in.

“Again, it shows the need for the student. They’re filling with calories and carbs that don’t really satisfy,” he said.

While the two other student teams did not receive grants during last week’s competition, they’ll have another opportunity to submit their ideas through a second, online round of competition. Bacon emphasized the important of developing oral communication skills through the competition and said the school hopes to participate again in the future.

“The students have told me they would love to go back again,” she said.