Teacher Appreciation Week Spotlight: Pilot Light Fellow Lisa E. Hosts a Food and Art Event for her Community at Alice Fong Yu Alternative School

By contributing writer Emily March, Pilot Light Intern 

Every school year, our Food Education Fellows create thoughtful, engaging lessons for students to learn about the connections between food and their daily lives. Today, we would like to highlight one particular Fellow Lisa Ernst, a 6th grade teacher at Alice Fong Yu Alternative School, who teaches her students about the importance of food in the Asian American heritage year-round. Over the past few months, their learning has culminated into beautiful art the students created for the inaugural Art and Food Expo Event held this past April. To understand the story of how this cultural event came to be, we have to go back to Lunar New Year this past January… 


Lisa’s students learned about the symbolic purpose of food for Lunar New Year. They discussed how traditional foods like nian gao (New Year rice flour cake) and tangyuan (dessert rice balls served in hot broth) are important for cultural celebrations. 

Lisa then took inspiration from the online interview series #ChineseFoodiesofIG to pose the question to her students “what does home taste like to you?” Students explored their most formative experiences with food through the lens of their individual experiences and cultures, and were given creative freedom to imagine their dream dinner party guests and dishes through an essay writing exercise.


Lisa’s students had a busy month collaborating with parents and grandparents in their community to prepare for the annual Chinese New Year festival! Students and community members came together to make and distribute traditional treats at a street fair hosted by their school. Upon arrival, event attendees heard children speaking Cantonese and Mandarin and browsed booths featuring various games, art, and presentations from elementary to middle school students honoring different Chinese New Year traditions. 


This annual event was a huge success, and the students and school community were even featured on their local ABC news affiliate for their unique blend of food, art, language, and community building. 


After months of work, Lisa’s students put together an all-encompassing project called “Pieces of Social Justice.” Students were inspired by their Food Education experiences and produced artistic reflections on food, tradition, and the practice of sustainability in cultural contexts. Lisa’s students created thought-provoking pieces of art currently on exhibit at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, California. 


To tie together the year’s worth of knowledge and experiences in Lisa’s classroom, the Alice Fong Yu school held the inaugural “Art and Food Expo” for Lisa’s 6th grade students. This was an opportunity for everyone in the community to appreciate the students’ insights and reflections and learn more about the connection of food and social justice in the Asian American community. The event included student-assembled refreshments, including a mix of store bought and school garden-grown produce and a fried rice cooking demo from Lisa’s colleague, Ms. Zhao conducted in Cantonese. Students also displayed a series of street art pieces centered around food, and a moving art installation featuring music specifically chosen by each student, and even designed their own chef’s hats!

Additionally, parents were able to tour the school garden and meet the new chickens their children had helped to raise over the course of the school year. Students and their parents had the opportunity to take photographs together on the red carpet as a keepsake for the event. 


As we reflect on all the work put into this event, we see it as a testament to the beauty of partnership between a classroom, parents, and community. Thanks to the hard work of Lisa and her fellow educators, around 175 parents, staff, and students joined together for an evening of food, art, and education. 

We can’t wait to see how this event will change over the years thanks to the hard work of Lisa and her colleagues at Alice Fong Yu. Thank you, Lisa, for your incredible thoughtfulness and commitment to bringing students’ identities to life through events like these. 

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