This fall, social studies teacher Melissa Tracy was named a top 10 finalist for the prestigious Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize 2023, an international accolade bestowed on educators making exceptional contributions to their field. The $1 million prize, awarded to a single outstanding teacher, is a beacon for educational excellence.
Selected from 7,000 educators spanning 130 countries, Tracy stands out for her innovative Food Studies CTE Pathway program, which encourages students to explore food through the lenses of culture, environment, power and history. In 2019, she transformed her classroom into a hydroponic laboratory where students employ cutting-edge agricultural technology to cultivate organic fruits and vegetables.
“We started with eight raised beds, and then it quickly grew to 36,” Tracy says of the indoor operation that now spans two classrooms and nearly 3,000 square feet. “At one point, we were actually bringing a hose from outside the building to water the plants.” The challenge of managing the abundance of fresh produce led her students to propose a solution: Donate it to fight food insecurity. Monthly, they provide about 6,000 pounds of produce to community fridges and food banks.
“If you are food insecure, it’s often difficult to get access to fresh produce,” Tracy says. “So students are playing an active role in helping to address that critical need.”