By Chris Branam
The garden beds had been prepared, the students were signed up and the teachers were on board.
Growing Healthy Kids, a garden-themed nutrition education curriculum developed at Oregon State University for students in the second and third grades, was on track for 2020. But then the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of Oregon public schools for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year. Growing Healthy Kids was canceled.
Rebecca Marson was crushed. Rebecca, a nutrition educator for the Oregon State University Extension Service in the Portland area, had been scheduled to teach Growing Healthy Kids at Portland’s Woodlawn Elementary School but it closed before she had the chance.
The evidence-based curriculum is offered through Oregon SNAP-Ed, a nutrition education program of OSU Extension. Last year, a Growing Healthy Kids remote workgroup was established to plan to adapt the curriculum into a pilot program to be delivered remotely in 2021.
“We were really motivated to figure this out and how we could continue our partnership with schools,” Rebecca says.
As a result, Growing Healthy Kids is back.
Starting today, Growing Healthy Kids will have a new video lesson every Thursday until May 13. The video lessons, about eight to 10-minutes long, give students opportunities to learn basic plant parts and encourage students to try a variety of fruits and vegetables using their senses. They complement the Oregon Department of Education’s Oregon Harvest for Schools videos.
The OSU Extension Food Hero Grow This! Oregon Garden Challenge can also serve as the hands-on gardening piece of the curriculum – a component that was lost due to the remote aspect of the delivery. All of the video lessons and accompanying resources are available in Spanish.
Teachers who participate in the adapted Growing Healthy Kids program will find the materials are flexible and can be used whether they are in-person, hybrid, or fully remote. For example, in the remote model the SNAP-Ed educator sends a link to the materials to teachers who then assign via their online learning platform for students to complete the activities at home.
In the hybrid model, a teacher could choose to view the video lessons together in the classroom followed by a discussion, then assign the remainder of the activities to complete at home.
“It’s really up to the classroom teacher to decide the best model of delivery as some teachers are juggling classrooms where half of their students are remaining at home,” Rebecca says.
Growing Healthy Kids can also be taught at home by caregivers in Oregon and beyond.
The adapted lessons have been organized into separate Google Site Pages that direct students to watch the video lesson, accept and/or report on their assigned missions, learn more about a special Oregon-grown food by watching the Oregon Harvest for Schools video, and find other themed resources and hands-on garden-related activities.
“It’s safe to say we don’t know how long we’ll be delivering the curriculum this way,” Rebecca says. “We’ll be collecting data on how teachers used the material and how students engaged with the lessons. This information will be helpful as we adapt other SNAP-Ed curricula to a remote or hybrid model.”
In 2016, an outcome evaluation of Growing Healthy Kids was conducted with third-graders in three schools in central Oregon. The study compared the curriculum delivery with a series of food-tasting only nutrition education lessons and found that students who received the Growing Healthy Kids curriculum exhibited significantly larger gains than the comparison group on two important outcomes: the number of vegetables and fruits eaten, and their reported preference for a range of garden vegetables.