Garden, nutrition education programs growing in Lewiston schools


Charlotte Niall, center, questions about the raised bed garden she and her family are building at McMahon Elementary School in Lewiston, November 2022. Students, school staff and families spent her day rebuilding vegetable beds in her two garden spaces at the school. FoodCorps’ Eliza Guion, second from left, says student-grown foods are used to teach cooking techniques and nutrition education. . Daryn Slover/Sun Journal File

LEWISTON — A garden and nutrition program is taking root in Lewiston elementary schools with the help of two nonprofits.

Through the work of the St. Mary’s Nutrition Center and FordCorps, Connors Elementary School and McMahon Elementary School offer educational programs in horticulture and nutrition.

On Monday, McMahon’s FoodCorps service member, Eliza Guion, presented the program to members of the school board.

FoodCorps is a national non-profit organization focused on increasing access to nutritious meals in schools. For over a decade, the organization has helped develop programming in Lewiston with the help of St Mary’s Nutrition Center.

FoodCorps members help start and expand these programs in local schools. A few years later, however, the school district becomes responsible for staffing and program management.

This will be the last year FoodCorps members will work at McMahon, but Guion said he is working with school staff to ensure the program continues. She told committee members that FoodCorps aims to start a similar program at either Farwell Elementary School or Geiger Elementary School.

Gion said studies on school gardening programs have found that elementary school students have greater scientific achievement and consume more fruits and vegetables.

Younger students tend to focus on sensory activities, while older students focus more on the connection between mathematics and science.

As an example, a sixth grader recently collected a soil sample from his garden and sent it to the University of Maine for analysis. The results help students determine the soil needed to best support plant growth.

“Some people get confused because they think they’re just teaching kids how to garden,” Gion says. “I think the schoolyard is really a container for experiential learning and hands-on learning, where you can take any topic or concept out there and make it real to your students. It’s a tool for strengthening.”

As part of the program, Gion works with school lunch staff to provide fresh food samples for students to sample during lunch.

“Anecdotally, we’ve found that students are more willing to try new things if they’re somehow involved in the process of preparing for something new,” she said.

The concept may sound basic, but there is a need. For some students, the tasting opportunities offered were their first taste of apples, she said.

“What FoodCorps is doing could affect our children’s future personal and professional lives,” said Diana Kruszewski, science teacher at McMahon. “By educating these students about nutrition and how plants work, we can educate future scientists who will influence the environment, botanists who will experiment on Mars, or the next Gordon Ramsay,” he famously wrote. British chef.

Jaye Rich, teacher of McMahon’s multilingual students, said the students love being in the garden. The program also provides a great opportunity for students to practice their English skills, she said.

A clinician who works with students with special needs in McMahon’s day treatment program says the garden is essential for students who think and learn differently.

“The garden really provides a space to explore and see the world differently outside the classroom,” she said. “





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