Good food is fuel for learning says Christine Tran, a University of Washington doctoral student studying Educational Leadership, Policy & Organizations.

The former Los Angeles Unified School District teacher remembers how her students did not enjoy eating school food. They'd commonly refer to it as ‘prison food.’ Students who qualified for free lunches chose to go hungry instead, with direct impacts on their academic performance.

That experience inspired her to come to UW’s College of Education and research the policy practice gap between what school nutrition should be and what it really is for students. At the same time, she's working in the community teaching kids about nutrition-related subjects as a volunteer educational leader for the Pike Place Market Education Program.

“We want to teach the kids about the community at Pike Place Market such as some of the social services they have to offer,” Tran said. “There is a medical center, early childhood program, and low-income housing. It’s a way for kids to learn more about the history of Pike Place Market and food education. They get to also learn about where farmers are situated in the Washington state area and how they can get food produced locally.”

This November, Tran attended the University Council for Educational Administration Convention in Washington, D.C. and presented her paper "Learning on Empty: A Qualitative Study on Student Stigmatization of Federal School Nutrition Programs." Tran is supported by the College of Education in the UCEA Jackson Scholar Program, which develops future faculty of color for the field of educational leadership and policy.

The Pike Place Market Education Program provides opportunities for Seattle area elementary school students to learn about the original farmers market, the wide range of businesses at the market, and the history and cultural heritage of Pike Place Market. The Pike Place Market Preservation and Development Authority created the program in 1992 to establish a relationship between local schools and the market. Since then, the market has hosted more than 25,000 Seattle elementary school students, with approximately 2,100 students from 48 public and private schools participating during the 2013-2014 school year.

“Ultimately, I hope kids can have equal access and be able to eat at school, feel comfortable about it, and feel that they can learn in an environment that’s nurturing,” Tran said.

Tran also is a fellow of the Collaborative Researchers for Education Sciences Training (CREST) program at UW. CREST is an Institute of Education Sciences pre-doctoral fellowship funded by the U.S. Department of Education to train education scientists in interdisciplinary and mixed-methods research.


Dustin Wunderlich, Director for Marketing and Communications