Being a teacher isn’t always sweet, but with a night of training and locally sourced food, a local partnership is hoping to empower teachers to stay in the profession.

This spring, the Lafayette Parish school system began hosting the AIM Academy, a partnership among the school district and local philanthropic organizations to support teachers in underperforming schools.

The academy targeted teachers with less than three years of experience working in Transformation Zone schools, or schools that have scored a D or F for two or more consecutive years.

AIM stands for “Achievement in Mind” and drives the focus behind the Pugh Family Foundation’s involvement, foundation Executive Director Todd Mouton said.

The conferences provided professional development, networking and mentorship opportunities, and the chance for teachers to build a community. The goal is to improve teacher retention in schools with high turnover rates and to limit teacher burnout, Mouton said.

“In that classroom, it can be a little lonely with just you and the kids,” he said. “If we can show you’re not in this alone, that there’s tangible support, we do believe folks will stay and say Lafayette is a great place to be.”

Transformation Zone schools have about 100 teachers with less than three years of experience, and each AIM Academy event averaged about 65 attendees, he said.

The once-a-month academy began in January, Mouton said, and the school system and community partners are planning to expand the program’s offerings for the coming school year. They’re also looking at an event in the summer, he said.

While the professional development portion is important, investing in teachers requires more than investment in their classroom management ability, Mouton said. It also involves caring about the minds and bodies of the teachers and ensuring they’re fostered as individuals, he said.

To do that, the Pugh Family Foundation partnered with the Acadiana Food Hub, a local farming and healthy eating nonprofit, to provide fresh meals to the teachers at each event. The Hub put together a locally sourced salad, entrée and snack or dessert item for each meeting, using locally grown produce or products from local vendors.

“It’s a visible sign to the teachers that the community cares,” Mouton said.

Acadiana Food Hub board President Zack McMath said his organization believes in building a healthier community, and strengthening educators to support the next generation is a great place to start.

“It’s a treat to give them something that’s unique and grown with love,” McMath said.

The Acadiana Food Hub offers distribution and processing assistance to local farmers and producers through several services, including rentable kitchen space, a 6,500-square-foot food storage facility and an online grocery service.

The goal is to make locally produced food an accessible and affordable option for more people, McMath said.

The Pugh Family Foundation and Acadiana Food Hub first partnered last fall to provide healthy meals to teachers at J.W. Faulk Elementary and Alice Boucher Elementary during teacher conference days, and the partnership continued to blossom from there, Mouton said.

He said the partners’ grassroots “farm to schools” initiative is a good way to begin educating the community on healthy eating and food accessibility. It’s also an opportunity for the Acadiana Food Hub to forge a stronger relationship with the school district, Mouton said.

That’s been one of the nonprofit’s goals since the hub opened two years ago, McMath said. His organization is pushing for the school system to consider more locally sourced food for school lunches. It requires considerable logistics and adjusting how the school system approaches its food procurement process, but it’s possible, he said.

For now, McMath said, he’s focused on building awareness and educating the community. One element he’s developing is a guide for teachers to share with their students about where food comes from and how healthy eating benefits them.

“We teach our kids to brush their teeth. Why don’t we teach them to eat healthy?” McMath said. “We can’t ask them to make healthier decisions if they don’t understand why.”

McMath said he hopes introducing teachers to the benefits of locally grown foods at the AIM Academy events will have a trickle down effect and positively influence students.


Follow Katie Gagliano on Twitter, @katie_gagliano.