School Garden News – Hayward, California

Joy of growing: Teaching garden know-how
By Kristofer Noceda (InsideBayArea.com)

HAYWARD — Youssif Rouchi tears off a piece of mustard greens from a school garden and eats it.

“Wow! Dude, this tastes like that wasabi stuff,” Youssif, 12, says to classmates.

“Hey, let me try,” a sixth-grader says. “Me, too!” another yells.

Mission accomplished.

Fairview Elementary School’s garden program has students excited to try out fresh fruits and vegetables, something officials say can only benefit kids in the long run.

“It’s horrifying because I hear the No. 1 thing kids like to eat is hot Cheetos,” said Debra Israel, who coordinates the Hayward Nutritional Learning Community Project in the Hayward Unified School District.

“This generation of children is not expected to outlive their parents,” Israel said. “It is horrifying.”

The Hayward Nutritional Learning Project, which also belongs to a county coalition that includes the San Lorenzo and Livermore school districts, is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Eighteen district elementary schools, a middle school and high school are part of the project in Hayward. To qualify for the program, a school must have at least half its students enrolled in free and discounted lunch program.

The idea began as part of a pilot program in 2003.

Christine Boynton, then a fifth-grade teacher at Burbank Elementary in Hayward, worked with the Lawrence Hall of Science and the botanical garden at the University of California, Berkeley, and created a classroom curriculum based on nutrition education.
“She realized it was hands-on, interactive, and appeared to affect classroom behavior in a positive way,” Israel said. “The next thing you know, everyone wanted to start school gardens.”

Boynton now works at the Alameda County Office of Education and directs the Nutritional Learning Community Coalition.

The curriculum has grown over the years, and coordinators at each participating school site have made their own additions.

Matt Nolan, who heads the project at Fairview, introduced a composting program this school year.

At the end of every lunch, students can donate their leftover fruit and vegetables to the “FBI” — which stand for fungus, bacteria and invertebrates — which turn it into food for the school garden.

Students then weigh how much food scraps they have collected for the day and mark it on a graph to track their progress for the year.

“The idea is to track how much food we save from landfills, while also learning and applying math skills,” Nolan said.

After students have entered the data, they take the leftover food scraps and dump the remains in a three-tier composting system.

“It’s about getting kids active, getting out, touching things and giving them an experience of making their own food,” Nolan said. “Many students don’t realize that food doesn’t just come from a grocery store.”

In addition to promoting healthy eating, the program has helped teachers temporarily drift away from test-driven lessons.

“With such an emphasis now focused on accountability and testing, teachers are saying this is the one fun thing students have left,” Israel said. “It’s engaging students in an interactive hands-on approach that seems to be strengthening their success in school.”

Meanwhile, students said they enjoy participating in the program because they know it helps the environment.

“The garden is important because it’s going to help the air become cleaner,” Rouchi said. “Plus, it helps us kids out too, because we know how to take care of a garden now and won’t have to hire a gardener when we get older.”

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