By John Lynds
Last Friday the Patrick J. Kennedy Elementary School was a beehive of activity as employees from the American Heart Association (AHA) and the Aetna Foundation teamed up to create a ‘Teaching Garden’ at the school.
The gardens will teach the school’s kindergarten through fifth-grade students how to plant seeds, nurture growing plants, harvest produce, and understand the value of good-eating habits. Using the AHA’s dietary recommendations for children as a template, the school will incorporate the AHA’s Teaching Gardens lessons on nutrition, math, science and other subjects into its curriculum throughout the year and will be sponsored by Aetna.
Students at the Kennedy school started the day by working with Aetna employees to assemble nine, wooden garden planters. They then filled the planters with soil and finally planted fall vegetables, including broccoli, kale, lettuce and Brussels sprouts.
“We are thrilled the Aetna Foundation will provide the support necessary to create eight Teaching Gardens and make a difference in the lives of the children in these communities,” said AHA Eastern Division Vice President James Devlin, . “Research shows the Teaching Gardens dramatically change the way children think about food and consume it, and those who participate in school gardening programs have a greater chance of trying and liking fruits and vegetables. These gardens provided by Aetna can make a lifelong impact on the health of those participating.”
The AHA Teaching Gardens program encompasses a core belief that when you educate children about nutritional choices, and challenge them to make small changes to improve their health, they will build a foundation of healthy habits – and even use them to empower their families at home.
“Our mission is to build a healthier world – one person, one family and one community at a time – and supporting the Teaching Gardens program is one way we are achieving that goal,” said President of the Aetna Foundation Dr. Garth Graham, MD. “The children who participate don’t only learn about the importance of fresh, healthy food, but often share their knowledge and enthusiasm with their families, helping to improve health in their communities from the ground up.”
Kennedy School Principal Kristen Goncalves said the program will help teach the school’s students what it truly means to be healthy. She said the Kennedy school is “an incredibly high poverty school” and that nearly 90 percent of the student body are English language learners.
“We’re constantly looking for real life opportunities to make things come alive for our students,” said Goncalves. “We want to make sure that our children have the same experiences and opportunities that anyone else could have. This is one of them, being able to do some hands-on work, being able to really engage in the learning process.”