It was unusually mild November day as North Crawford teacher Nate McKittrick showed off progress in the school’s gardening project last week. It is one of several initiatives that are receiving additional support through the Carol M. White Physical Education Program (PEP) Grant, a three-year federal grant that began with this school year.
“Our green technologies class and the woods class constructed 20 raised beds for the garden,” said McKittrick, as he waved toward a double row of four-foot tall garden containers clustered near a wall. All had been cleaned of any debris for the winter, save one lone bed of spinach.
The program is adding a three-bin open composting system and will teach kids to sort their leftover food in the cafeteria so it can be used to enrich the school garden soil. It already uses a worm bin for composting and McKittrick hopes to expand the worm bins to include them in each elementary classroom.
“A lot of the teachers are taking students out to observe the gardens, using it for class exercises in writing details, in studying plant structure, and for snacking,” McKittrick said. “We are hoping to get all of the different aspects of what needs to be done with the garden divided up and incorporated as an active part of the student curriculum.”
A small greenhouse has been added to the gardens and students will start their owns seeds this year. Students also help plant and maintain the planters. McKittrick hopes to recruit volunteer families to care for the gardens, harvesting and using produce, during the summer months when students are unavailable.
Using the produce for the school year-round is a question the school is still working on. While the school can freeze produce, an option limited by freezer space, they cannot can or preserve foods due to health and sanitation restrictions, according to North Crawford Food Service Director Kay Teague. So, produce from the gardens is currently used to supplement the farm-to-school program that works with elementary students offering three snacks per week to introduce children to new fresh fruit and vegetables.
The school is using the PEP Grant to promote overall wellness, so food and nutrition are vital components of their effort.
Teague has already introduced some changes, independent of the grant. Students now have a soup and salad bar to supplement the school lunch program, while promoting fresh and nutritious foods. The newest initiative to get a PEP boost is the school chef program. Teague is bringing in a chef each month to design the menu and help in its preparation.
Chef Carl Welke heads up the food service program at Weston School District in Cazenovia. Welke spent Friday, Nov. 15 at North Crawford, heading up lunch preparations and meeting with members of the school implementing the PEP Grant.
Welke began a school garden program at his school, which is currently operating as a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), selling produce shares to members of the local community.
“It takes 20 years to make an impact and see the results,” Welke said, stressing that the education commitment has to be long term.
“The whole key to the food service part of this effort is talking to the kids,” Welke said. “They have to trust you know what you’re talking about.”
A next step for the garden initiative will involve creating a student gardening club. Master gardener Marta Engel has already offered to assist the school with the project, according to Tarasa Lown, the PEP Grant Director.
With the school board’s focus on presenting voters with referendum to approve building a fitness center, the physical education department is becoming a major player in the PEP Grant implementation.
The grant has already enabled physical education teachers, Judd Eastman and Anna Davidson, to improve the fitness equipment situation.
The two have been reworking their entire curriculum, seeking to make wellness an accessible mindset the students can continue to develop throughout their life.
“It’s a culture change, where we are trying to help everyone understand how they can make fitness a part of their everyday life,” Davidson explained. “We are creating context for them to understand the value of a healthy body and a healthy attitude. It’s not just sports, it’s the golden rule – respect for others, how to work as a team and the importance of positive feedback.”
The two are teaching the five elements of fitness to every grade level:
• muscle strength,
• muscle endurance,
• cardio-respiratory endurance, and
• body composition.
The school has used funds from the grant to create a year-round outdoor fitness challenge course. It involves a running or walking course with a series of equipment installations with plaques explaining the various exercises and the parts of the body they will impact.
“We can use just about any equipment, but the most important part of our effort is teaching kids why it’s important to move,” Eastman said.
Davidson is incorporating the Common Core Curriculum into her elementary classes.
“They know children learn better when they are moving,” Davidson said. She described a recent exercise in which she placed letters of the alphabet on the walls and had the kindergarteners spell their names by running to the letters of their name.
The school has already done some rearranging of its strength training equipment, but as Eastman explained, the current space is constrained.
“It’s used primarily by the athletes right now,” Eastman noted. “I would like to use it for classes, but I can’t fit a class inside a space that can only accommodate 10 to 15 kids at most.”
“We know we have to work with the community and find ways to make this available,” Eastman said of the proposed fitness center.
The school board is planning to present information on the proposed school and community fitness center by December. The board also plans to begin holding public meetings in January to gauge community interest and commitment. The proposed fitness center will need to pass a referendum, planned for April, if it is to become a reality.
The fitness center would not be available to the community until the end of the grant period, though Lown noted that would occur within months of completion of the building, if it is approved by voters.