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Lincoln Magnet students get their hands dirty

Chequita Hughley’s Lincoln Elementary Magnet School kindergarten students prepare soil in a raised garden bed as the Dougherty County School System kicked off its Teaching Gardens program Friday. The program’s goal is to help students learn the food cycle and to promote healthy eating habits. In the next two weeks, four other elementary schools — Turner, Alice Coachman, Radium Elementary and Lake Park — will start their own gardens. (Staff Photo: Terry Lewis)

Chequita Hughley’s Lincoln Elementary Magnet School kindergarten students prepare soil in a raised garden bed as the Dougherty County School System kicked off its Teaching Gardens program Friday. The program’s goal is to help students learn the food cycle and to promote healthy eating habits. In the next two weeks, four other elementary schools — Turner, Alice Coachman, Radium Elementary and Lake Park — will start their own gardens. (Staff Photo: Terry Lewis)

ALBANY — Nearly 100 kindergarten students from Lincoln Elementary Magnet School did what they do best Friday morning — they played in the dirt.

The American Heart Association is taking a new approach in the fight against childhood obesity, teaming with noted child-nutrition activist and philanthropist Kelly Meyer to create the American Heart Association Teaching Gardens. The plots, planted in elementary schools across the country, will become real-life learning laboratories for students to learn what it means to be healthy.

Aimed at first graders through fifth, children are being taught how to plant seeds, nurture growing plants, harvest produce and ultimately understand the value of good eating habits.

Garden-themed lessons teach nutrition, math, science and other subjects all while having fun in the fresh air and working with your hands. Once a school commits to the program, a school-wide planting day is scheduled.

Lincoln, was the first Dougherty County School to commit to the program last year, and kicked off the local planting schedule. Over the next two weeks, four more DCSS elementary schools — Turner, Alice Coachman, Radium Elementary and Lark Park — will also hold planting days.

“Last year was our first year and all 900 of our students touched the garden in some shape, form or fashion,” Lincoln kindergarten teacher and the school’s Teaching Gardens coordinator said. “These kindergartners are our ‘farmers for the day.’ Right now they are preparing the boxes, later we will plant fall crops like romaine lettuce, spinach, cabbage , collards and herbs.

“We hope to harvest in late November and the vegetables will be served in our cafeteria.”

University of Georgia Extension agent James Morgan said aside from learning about healthy eating habits, Teaching Gardens will help students understand the food chain.

“It’s very important for (the students) to know where their food comes from,” Morgan said. “Most of these kids have never gardened before. We hope that this start-to-finish project will give them some sense of ownership of the food they eat. At this age exposure to horticulture and agriculture might lead to something else down the road.”

DCSS Child Nutrition Services Director Blaine Allen thinks the project can be a learning experience for all involved.

“We decided to implement Teaching Gardens as a hands-on lab, with math, science, language arts and environmental awareness as it focus,” Allen said. “Equally important is trying to instill healthy eating habits. We have children here in Dougherty County with adult diseases like obesity, diabetes and heart disease. We have a healthy eating plan in the DCSS and we hope this program will carry over into their homes.”

Lincoln Assistant Principal Patricia Greene agreed.

“I think the most beneficial part of this program is helping the students learn how to eat healthy meals,” Greene said. “We want to teach them is what they eat can help prevent disease in the future — most specifically heart disease.”