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Cultivating Wellness at Bethesda Elementary

Bethesda Elementary School
Durham, North Carolina

Kids with Teacher Watering Planter BoxThe staff and administrators at Bethesda Elementary in Durham, North Carolina know that nutrition education and physical activity are just as important as math and science for their 686 Bethesda Bulldogs. That is why the school has taken every opportunity to improve their school-wide wellness initiatives.

As a participant in Durham County Department of Public Health’s DINE Program (Durham‘s Innovative Nutrition Education) for the last two years, Bethesda students already received interactive nutrition classes, cooking-based nutrition lessons and wellness programs in Kindergarten, second, and fourth grades. However, DINE and Raina Bunnag from the Durham County Department of Public Health who led the program, were both so popular with the students that Raina was invited to join the school wellness team, where she immersed herself within the school culture and began bringing new ideas about gardens and other opportunities to improve nutrition education initiatives. Bunnag’s efforts snowballed, and with $1,000 from an Action for Healthy Kids Game On grant for the 2018-2019 school year, sponsored by CSX, Bethesda was able to construct and build their own garden beds in order to enhance and expand on their already robust nutrition education program.

With the additional funding and the assistance of Inter-Faith Food Shuttle’s Growing School Gardens Program and FoodCorps Service Member Annie Kersting, Bethesda has been able to integrate the garden as part of the school culture and institute garden education in the third grade curriculum. The school plans to continue expanding the gardens and nutrition education programs annually.

Recently, Principal Dr. Shaneeka Moore-Lawrence had the opportunity to sit in on a third grade class utilizing the garden as an outdoor classroom (complete with outdoor blackboard), where the teacher took the opportunity to integrate diet and healthy eating into the plant science curriculum, which perfectly aligned with grade level standards. At a school where 100% of students are eligible for free and reduced-priced meals, the school is constantly seeking additional resources to help feed their students, and the school garden is no exception! School staff are working together with child nutrition staff to bring more fresh fruits and vegetables from the garden into the daily menu at Bethesda.

In addition to nutrition education initiatives, Bethesda recently hosted a “Get Off Your Apps!” family event where the PE teacher led fun fitness activities for the whole family. DINE staff were also on site to talk to families about nutrition and the school garden. School staff report hearing many comments from parents of students coming home and asking for vegetables that they’ve never eaten at home. Even Dr. Moore-Lawrence admits that while she never was into gardening prior to this initiative, she does indeed “see the value in a school garden and [is] a bit more excited about getting our hands dirty!” Dr. Moore-Lawrence is continuously seeking additional resources to help support and grow their garden program.

Thanks to the staff, administrators and the funding from AFHK’s Game On grant, there are more than just vegetables growing at Bethesda- there is momentum behind this healthy movement!