SAN ANTONIO – More than 200 students from Alonso S. Perales Elementary School in the Edgewood Independent School District recently participated in the kickoff of a 10-week program being presented in low-income areas of Bexar County.
The Learn, Grow, Eat and Go! initiative of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and its Junior Master Gardener program provides students with important life lessons in health and wellness through gardening, nutrition education and exercise, said Ruby Zavala, AgriLife Extension youth gardens coordinator for Bexar County.
Zavala said while the program has been presented in other elementary and middle schools in Bexar County, this is the first time it has been presented at an elementary school in the Edgewood ISD. Other Edgewood ISD elementary school staff attended the kickoff to see if they might like to bring the Learn, Grow, Eat and Go! program to their school.
During the kickoff, about 80 students from four third-grade classes, including one bilingual class, prepared soil and planted tomatoes, cabbage, squash, lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli and other fall vegetables, along with herbs and ornamental plants, in the school’s teaching garden. Another 120-plus kindergarten and first-grade students looked on as the third-graders worked in the garden.
School principal Theresa Silva spoke to the students, telling them about the vision for the garden, which was initially constructed through the Edgewood Cares program and the school’s physical plant staff as a way to help engage students, parents and the surrounding community.
For the Learn, Grow, Eat and Go! program, AgriLife Extension provided $1,500 in gardening supplies and tools, plus educational materials.
“We wanted this area to be a sustainable ‘learning life lab’ for the students, where they can explore and create and gain a respect for the natural environment,” Silva said. “We also wanted it to be a place where the parents and other members of the community can become engaged and share and appreciate those lessons the students are learning.”
Silva extended her appreciation to AgriLife Extension for “helping bring the garden to life” for the students.
Victoria Seguera, a third-grader in the bilingual class who participated in the garden planting, said she enjoyed tending the soil and helping the plants grow.
“My father has a garden with vegetables and other plants, and I’ve watched him plant and grow them,” she said. “I’m glad we have a garden here at school so we can do it too.”
Over the 10-week period, participating third-grade classes will receive supplemental education about nutrition, healthy eating habits and the need for exercise. They will also use some of the vegetables and herbs grown in the garden as ingredients in healthy recipes they will help prepare.
“The Learn, Grow, Eat and Go! program attempts to help address health issues such as obesity and diabetes that affect millions of Texans,” Zavala said. “The program curriculum combines academics with gardening, nutrition-oriented food experiences, physical activity and family engagement.”
Zavala said during the program AgriLife Extension employees collaborate with school principals, teachers, coaches and parents to ensure it is successful.
“We will talk to the kids about proper nutrition and how they should eat more fruits and vegetables and avoid junk food,” said Angie Gutierrez, AgriLife Extension agent for family and community health, Bexar County. “Another important part of the program is demonstrating how to prepare healthy meals and providing students with recipes and healthful information they can take home and share with their families.”
Gutierrez said having a garden structure already in place at the school helped greatly in getting the program started.
“We’re looking forward to the garden growing and teaching the children about what nutrients the different vegetables provide,” she said. “We hope the parents as well as the students will be involved in this program. I’m also excited the children will taste test the raw vegetables they harvest before we use them in a recipe. We want students to get all their senses involved when learning about these vegetables and why they’re good for them.”
Zavala said the program also gives participants the opportunity to engage in other activities such as public speaking, civics and art.
“The program is aligned to Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills standards and also helps the students learn things like personal responsibility and teamwork,” Zavala said. “And the hands-on lessons in the curriculum are not only educational but also fun and interesting for the students. We know they will enjoy participating in the program.”