Monterey Highlands Elementary School, a nationally recognized Healthy School, received a Teaching Gardens Grant funded by Participant Media who teamed up with the American Heart Association (AHA) to create a school garden program. The school’s garden consists of nine wooden boxes planted with spinach, Swiss chard, strawberries, bok choy, lettuce, cabbage, kale, and several herbs.
The AHA created the Teaching Gardens program to educate elementary students about the importance of fruits and vegetables, to energize and excite them about produce, and to introduce fresh produce into the diets of students and their families. The program was designed to encourage healthy diets in young children and to help combat childhood obesity, which has reached epidemic proportions. Gardens make healthy foods fun, and they provide opportunities for children to try and enjoy healthy foods.
The AHA has established an aggressive health impact goal for the year 2020: to improve the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20 percent while reducing deaths from cardiovascular diseases and stroke by 20 percent. To measure the success of the 2020 impact goal, the AHA has created health impact measures for children over the age of two in the areas of: smoking, Body Mass Index, physical activity, diet score, total cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar. Specifically, to measure a healthy diet score the AHA has identified five primary and three secondary measures to improve the heart health of the American diet.
Two first grade teachers, Gary Ho and Connie Aoki, led the Teaching Garden. “With obesity being on the rise, the teaching garden provides a fun and exciting way to introduce fresh produce to our students and their families. Students and families will also learn to make healthy choices and may even grow their own backyard garden to continue to live a healthier lifestyle at home,” stated Mr. Ho.
Mrs. Aoki added, “The teaching garden allows our students to get out of the classroom and step outside into the real world where learning can take place. They get to experiment and learn through hands-on activities.”
PHOTO A: From left to right: Marisa Rodriguez (American Heart Association Teaching Gardens Manager), Dr. Linda Nakagawa (Instructional Specialist), Robin Perez (Instructional Specialist on Special Assn.), Kelly Meyer (Co-founder of the American Heart Association Teaching Gardens Program), Dr. Debbie Kotani (Principal), Gary Ho and Connie Aoki (First Grade Teachers).
PHOTO B: Kindergarten class enjoys the Teaching Garden.
PHOTO C: PTA parents volunteer in the Teaching Garden.
PHOTO D: Eighth grade students work in the Teaching Garden with Dr. Debbie Kotani and Dr. Linda Nakagawa (left).