Fish to School

Luncheon celebrates strategic community partnerships - By Kate Morse

Student-approved Copper River Crispy Salmon Fingers were a big hit with the students and their guests. Some diners devoured lunch while others savored each bite. Photo by Kinsey Justa/For The Cordova Times

President Truman officially established a nationwide school lunch program in 1946 “to safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation’s children and to encourage domestic consumption of nutritious agricultural commodities and other food.”

Students interview Robert Beedle and Kristina Hoffman at the Fish to School event April 27. Beedle a commercial gillnetter, serves on boards for Cordova District Fishermen United, Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corp., Prince William Sound Regional Citizens Advisory Council, and the city of Cordova Harbor Commission. Hoffman is the president and chief executive officer of the Prince William Sound Science Center.
Photo by Kinsey Justa/For The Cordova Times

Those words are contained in Section 2 of the National School Lunch Act.

Did anyone think at that time that school lunches would evolve to include Copper River salmon, a dish that consumers pay top dollar to enjoy in fancy restaurants around the world? Thanks to the efforts of local fishermen, processors, school chef Sandie Ponte and facilitation by Cordova District Fishermen United, Cordova students enjoy local seafood on a weekly basis.

Mhikee Gasman checks his notes after interviewing The Cordova Times administrative assistant Vivian Kennedy. Gasman learned that Kennedy is connected to salmon by working with the local newspaper that covers extensive fish news and tide tables each week. Canneries, marine suppliers and government agencies also send her advertisements.
Photo by Vivian Kennedy/For The Cordova Times

This community partnership is celebrated annually during a Fish to School Luncheon hosted by Cordova School District, CDFU, Copper River Watershed Project, Prince William Sound Science Center and Wild Salmon Center. Prior to lunch, community representatives are invited into the 5th grade classroom to meet with students interested in learning about how local jobs are connected to salmon.

While there are the obvious connections between fishermen and canneries to salmon, students are encouraged to explore the indirect economic benefits that extend throughout the community by talking with representatives from hotels, shipping companies, restaurants, the city, healthcare professionals and other professions that support fishermen or benefit from their purchases in the community.

After short interviews and introducing their special guests to the rest of the class, students escort the adults down to the cafeteria for a salmon lunch, showing off the salmon tank where they are raising coho salmon along the way.

Gillnet fisherman Tori Baker and Silver Bay fleet manager Tommy Sheridan check out the coho salmon fry that the 5th grade students are raising.
Photo by Vivian Kennedy/For The Cordova Times

Fish to School showcases how strategic partnerships benefit the entire community. Every student in Cordova School District has access to healthy, locally sourced seafood as part of the school lunch program. Every student gains a greater appreciation for the role of salmon in our local economy and surrounding ecosystems as part of their 5th grade curriculum.

Students gain confidence through their conversations with adults at the annual luncheon and are able to learn about a wide range of job opportunities in Cordova.

Mt. Eccles elementary school cafeteria staff serves Copper River Crispy Salmon Fingers for lunch. Brown rice, steamed broccoli and a salad bar rounded out the meal during the Fish 2 School event Thursday, April 27.
Photo by Vivian Kennedy/For The Cordova Times

As Cordova springs to life with preparations for the 2017 salmon season, students’ explorations in the community will continue. They will head into the harbor, Ilanka Cultural Center, and to Fleming Creek, to continue to learn first hand about the importance of salmon to Cordova and other Alaska coastal communities. Ultimately, these students are the future leaders of Cordova and these experiences will prepare them for the role they can play in sustaining healthy salmon populations for the benefit of all Cordovans, for generations to come.

Students and visitors enjoy a healthy meal after the 5th grade Fish 2 School interviews. Chatter about salmon continued around cafeteria tables, including guesses of who caught the fish and what species of salmon they were eating.
Photo by Kinsey Justa/For The Cordova Times

Additional support for these education programs contributed by American Seafood Company, Copper River Seafoods, Trident Seafoods, Wilson Construction, Cordova Telephone Cooperative and other individual contributors.

Kate Morse is the program director for the Copper River Watershed Project.