Teaching Garden


By Dedra Cordle
Staff Writer

Messenger photo by Dedra Cordle Girvace Lathon learns the basics of CPR from instructors with the American Heart Association.
Messenger photo by Dedra Cordle
Girvace Lathon learns the basics of CPR from instructors with the American Heart Association.

“Eat your fruits and vegetables” has been a cry heard around the dinner table for decades. It has also been ignored by many for just as long.

Gina Hart can remember all of the times she heard her parents say that to her when she was younger. She can also remember how she responded to that call.

“I would always sneak them to the dog under the table,” she said.

But as she grew up, the second grade teacher at Georgian Heights Elementary came to realize the importance of healthy eating and has tried to impart that wisdom on her students.
It doesn’t always work.

“I always hear complaints about what’s on the lunch menu,” she said. “Most of them do not like a lot of the vegetables.”

With that in mind, she was excited but cautious when she learned that the school had been chosen to be a part of the Teaching Garden program with the American Heart Association.

The program, which was established six years ago with the help of philanthropist and child-nutrition activist Kelly Meyer, asks students to get hands on – literally – and plant edible gardens for their school and community to enjoy.

Hart believed it was something the students at the school would enjoy.

“They love getting their hands dirty and I heard there were quite a few cheers when they were told (the school had been selected),” she said.

On May 24, the 4th and 5th grade classes came out to the open space in the courtyard and met up with volunteers from Scotts Miracle Gro. There, the adults supervised as the older students constructed large planter boxes and filled them with soil. Later, the younger students came out to the courtyard and started filling the newly build-boxes with herbs, peppers, tomatoes, kale and a variety of other fruits and vegetables.

Fourth grader Brianna Dowell, who is an avid helper in her family garden, relished the event.

“I usually help my grandmother plant the flowers, but most of the time the squirrels get them before they can grow,” she said.

She said she intends to come visit the garden during summer break to make sure the impact from the wildlife is minimal.

Friends Karina Martinez and Kelsey Robertson also said they planned to spend some of their summer vacation coming back to school to oversee the garden as well.

Rochelle Wilkerson, the school’s outgoing principal, said that is news that she wants to hear.

“This activity was important because it is getting students to understand healthy eating by providing them with a real-life and hands-on opportunity to see how some foods are harvested and prepared,” she said.

Wilkerson said she hopes that this experience can entice kids to eat their fruits and vegetables in the lunch room next school year since they will be consuming items they had a hand in growing.

But the day was not just about gardening. There were several other stations around the building where students were learning new information and skills. There was the salsa tasting station, which was a big hit and a big surprise for those who did not know all of the fruits and vegetables hidden within the delicious red sauce. There was the jump rope station where representatives with the AHA spoke about the importance of physical activity. And there was the Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation station where students learned the basics of the life-saving skill via dummy.

Jenny Hollabaugh, the youth markets director for the AHA, said it is never too early for kids to learn CPR.

“We have to be proactive,” she said, referring to a recent news story about a 6-year-old girl who saved the life of a loved one by using her newfound knowledge of CPR.

Erin Gliatta, the AHA development director, said this program has been vital to helping children and adults understand the importance of healthy living in a fun and interactive way.

She said she hopes the knowledge gained from this day can be used as a turning point in the battle against childhood obesity.

“This generation of children may the first to live shorter lives than their parents,” she said.

She said that is why programs like the Teaching Garden and the other activities that that students participated in that day is so important. She added that, based on feedback from school staff and families, the program is working to create a better understanding of healthy living and healthy eating.


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