SAN DIEGO — At 70 years old, Columbia City native, Jody McKinney, graduated from Alliant International University on May 25, receiving a doctorate in educational leadership and management.
She had already earned a masters in administration from San Diego State in 2008 as well as a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from Indiana University in 1964.
A member of the class of 1960 from Columbia City Joint High School, she has become a life long learner.
Even with all her degrees and accomplishments, McKinney’s education goals are not over.
She is working on creating a new charter school with an edible schoolyard.
This school is inspired by The Edible Schoolyard created by Alice Waters and her Chez Panisse Foundation in Berkeley, Calif.
McKinney said she visited The Edible Schoolyard in 2008 and was impressed by what they were doing.
“Parents, teachers and the community got on board and over 14 years created a model school program for our nation. I became a huge fan of Alice Waters. She has the Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, which serves only local, fresh organic food daily,” said McKinney.
“Also in 2008, I attended the first U.S. Slow Food Convention in San Francisco. I met so many interesting people that were genuinely concerned about the food of our country and the world. They all inspired me so much that I decided to do my dissertation on school cafeteria food.”
In an edible schoolyard setting, the curriculum will integrate garden activities with math, science, art, writing, history, geography, world cultures, languages and communication.
McKinney said she believes that by starting a charter school, such as her version of an edible schoolyard, other schools can learn new techniques and ideals while emulating a model education institute.
“The charter school that I want to create has organic cooking classes and organic gardening classes for all the students. The school has a full-time gardener and a full-time chef working with the students and maintaining the garden and kitchen areas year round,” said McKinney.
“The cafeteria will be set up to encourage students to eat healthy breakfasts and lunches. The school will have at least an acre for gardening, a pizza oven, a greenhouse, a chicken coop, a compost area and a cafe. The cafe will serve snacks, like smoothies, have take-out items like soups and salads for parents.”
With discussions of the nation’s health on the lips of healthcare workers and government leaders, the media has seen a bulge in the area of school nutrition.
Even First Lady Michelle Obama has made it her mission to better school lunches and eating options for students. The task may seem insurmountable, but McKinney isn’t giving up.
She said, “There are many factors that need to work out. The biggest obstacle in San Diego is finding a site that will pencil out due to property prices. San Diego is receptive to charter schools. Currently, there are 42 charter schools in the city of San Diego and many more in the county.”
Her motivation? “I had a friend who got her doctorate after she had started it 10 years prior. I went to her graduation and heard three of her colleagues talk about their dissertations and decided that I would like to focus on one subject in depth like they did. I was totally inspired by their talks,” said McKinney.
She also comes from a line of goal setters and achievers.
McKinney said her parents were a big inspiration to her.
“My dad, David Walter, started a retirement home with Dr. Thomson after he retired and my mother, Genny Walter Thomson, started a YMCA in Columbia City when she was 70,” she said.
“I have a lot of varied interests and friends and just love to see what is next to emerge from this fascinating world we live in,” McKinney said.
To celebrate McKinney’s collegiate accomplishments, a group of 30 came together with out of town guests Diane Cotterly, from Los Angeles, Mary Ann McClusky, from Columbia City, Ronda La Rue of Ojai, Calif., Matt Clements of Ojai, Calif. and Sandra Beddor from Newport Beach, Calif.
In her list of things to do, McKinney said she might have another project waiting in the wings.
“I have a son, Sean, who crossed over in 2004. He had a misunderstood brain disease which may be another project for the future.”
As she strives to realize her dreams, McKinney is surrounded by supporters.
“My friends and family for the most part have been very supportive and are always cheering me on and want to know the latest developments,” said McKinney.