Clarkston High School

clarkston high school

In the 1990s, the city of Clarkston, GA, in metro Atlanta was recognized as an ideal place to resettle refugees fleeing war and persecution. Today, over 50% of Clarkston residents are foreign-born, and the local Clarkston High School (CHS) has students from 54 countries speaking 47 different languages.

Many refugee students come to the United States from refugee camps or other areas where food supplies are limited, leading to high rates of chronic health issues. To compound this problem, Clarkston has a 42% poverty rate, and in families with two foreign-born parents, 76% live below the federal poverty level.

To help address the needs of these New Americans, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Atlanta creates opportunities for refugees and immigrants to integrate and thrive in Georgia communities through resettlement, employment, and health and wellness services, and an extensive education program for youth and adults.

The IRC in Atlanta’s Youth Food Justice (YFJ) program works with refugee and immigrant students at Clarkston High School to increase their access to healthy, nutritious food and empower them to become active agents of change in their community through garden-based work. The IRC accomplishes these goals through an after-school Garden Club serving over 100 students a year and a paid YFJ internship program for 8-10 students each semester, including summer.

Over 100 CHS students each year attend a weekly, after-school Garden Club located in the school garden. Garden Club students assist with maintaining, planting, and harvesting herbs and vegetables, and attend mini-lessons related to growing, processing, and cooking healthy food. Students who attend regularly are able to take on increasing leadership roles in the garden. Garden Club students are also invited to attend 1-2 field trips each semester to outdoor sites such as local farms and farmers markets.

The IRC engages 8-10 CHS students each semester in paid, 8-week internships throughout the school year and summer. Student interns are responsible for managing the school garden, harvest distribution, and attending lessons on sustainable food production, farm-to-fork cooking, and food justice. Each YFJ intern is also responsible for producing a capstone project called the Food Justice “Day of Action.” Days of Action include language- and culturally-appropriate classes, workshops, and events to help refugee community members improve their knowledge of and access to local, nutritious food.

Through the YFJ internship and Garden Club, refugee and immigrant youth gain increased confidence in themselves and their food traditions, learn valuable leadership and job skills, maintain healthy diets, and feel more connected to their local community. By learning to grow and appreciate food from their own and other cultures, YFJ participants also feel more connected to their food traditions and those of other cultures and maintain a healthy, nutritious diet.

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