2023-24 Fellow: Heidi Russell

Pre-Kindergarten General Education Teacher in Chicago, IL John M. Palmer Elementary

2023-24 Fellow: Heidi Russell has been teaching for four years in Chicago Public Schools. She first became interested in the Pilot Light Fellowship when she completed an Agricultural Education Mini Grant through Pilot Light during the Spring of 2022. She is looking forward to bringing her diverse classroom of students together through the framework of Food Education during her time as a Fellow.

Heidi Russell earned a Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education along with an endorsement in English as a Second Language from DePaul University. She is currently pursuing her Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction from American College of Education. Heidi is an advocate for farm to table practices. She helps to foster a love for food through her work on her school’s Gardening Committee, Chicken Coop Committee, Wellness Team, and as an after school Nature Club Teacher. Additionally, Heidi works to maintain gardening practices including hydroponics at home and greenhouse growing in the classroom. She also participates in the Food Waste Warrior Project to eliminate food waste in school and advocate for more student choice.

Favorite Food Education Standard: FES #1: Food Connects Us to Each Other.

Coming from a family of passionate foodies, our lives always revolved around what we would eat next. Food became not just a means of sustenance but a way to connect deeply with my immediate family and my heritage, particularly through the rich flavors of our southern roots. This love for food transcended into my teaching career. In my diverse classroom, students from various backgrounds unite through the shared experience of their favorite foods. Regardless of our languages or clothing, food acts as a unifying force, building bridges of understanding and friendship. It teaches us to see each other as equals, fostering a sense of comfort and belonging in a world where unity and connection are precious commodities.

A Favorite Food Memory or Recipe: 

One of my most treasured memories centers around a cherished food tradition in my family, a delightful ritual that unfolds late each summer. My brother-in-law, sister, husband, and I grow fresh produce in my family’s backyard. Once the vegetables are ripe and ready to be harvested, we collect all of our favorite garden goodies and make homemade soup using a family recipe passed down by our grandma. The aroma fills the air as we toss in an array of plump tomatoes, sweet corn, zucchini, kale, okra, and even some lima beans. Our favorite touch is the fiery kick of extra spicy peppers. Once the soup is ready, we venture outdoors around a bonfire, savoring the warmth of the soup. Our noses run from the spicy delight and the cool night air. It’s during these moments, laughter and heartfelt conversations intertwine, bringing us back together as a family once more.

Why I Became a Fellow: 

My greatest excitement for the Fellowship lies in building connections with fellow food enthusiasts through sharing valuable resources, exchanging ideas, and receiving feedback that will enrich my journey. I am equally eager to translate the knowledge gained from this professional development into my classroom. Fostering a love for food, sustainability, and cultural diversity among my students, and empowering them to appreciate the multifaceted world of food, is very exciting!

23-24 Fellow Heidi Russell
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