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School Gardens: Teaching Kids a Love of Food

by on January 25, 2010 at 7:00 AM

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School Gardens: CASTLES, Dillard Academy, North Carolina

When Cheryl Alston was tasked with helping underperforming students raise their test scores at Dillard Academy's Center for Academic, Social, Technology, Literacy, and Economic Solutions (CASTLES) she didn't start with worksheets and drills. She got her students outside, gardening. "I had to find a hook, something not traditional, different, exciting." CASTLES is an after-school and summer school program created to help struggling K-6 students in this socioeconomically-challenged area in rural North Carolina.

Thanks to CASTLES' 21st Century Community Learning Center grant, a partnership with the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS), and a local church with available land, and a growing number of other partnerships, the students at CASTLES work some 3 1/2 acres of peas, tomatoes, eggplant, greens, strawberries, cabbage, cucumbers, and herbs. They sell some of the produce at a community mini-market and cook some of it for themselves using recipes gleaned from grandparents. They even write and perform songs about their garden, which they recently performed at a W. K. Kellogg Foundation conference in San Jose, California.

Alston, who previously taught high school chemistry partly through a small classroom garden, adapted curriculum for the garden. She knew she had something when children enrolled in the summer gardening program tested out of CASTLES in subsequent years. "This is it!," she said to herself, "This is what we've got to do!" But as children bring home the lessons about cooking and gardening to their parents, Alston is hoping the program does more than raise test scores. She's hoping that students will teach their parents and then the community to eat healthier. "I'm waiting to hear about fewer cases of diabetes!" she laughs.

The summer gardening program at Dillard Academy in Goldsboro, North Carolina.

Filed Under: cooking with kids, food, slideshow

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