A gardenside chat

“Wait. Have we met you before?”, asks one sixth grader as his class settles into the outdoor classroom benches at a Santa Barbara area elementary school.

“Nope. I’m the crazy bike lady. I rode over 1,000 miles just to come here and talk to YOU!”, I reply. A few other students tune in. Immediately, I have their attention. This is a condensed presentation so after a quick overview of my route, program and mission, the floor opens up for Q&A. Hands are timid to start, but soon the class is peppering me with questions, including such gems as:

  • “Do you get to go to the bathroom?”
  • “What do you eat?”
  • “What’s your favorite color?”
  • “Are you married?”
  • … and of course, the wonderfully esoteric “WHY are you doing this?”

We wrap up and head into the garden where the students are soon busy carefully planting lettuce & bok choy in slightly crooked rows. I connect with the Principal and she fills me in on their many school lunch successes. Check out a portion of the list below:

I ask her what the turning point was for their school. “It was just time. We wrote a wellness policy, got specific, and stuck to it. A combination of motivated food services personnel, student education, family involvement & staff buy-in were all key pieces.”

This principal also encourages all the students to create a “Party on their plate” by placing the salad in the middle of a segmented tray rather than sequestering all those fresh veggies on the sidelines. She guesses that 25% of students are now “partying” on their plates. Kudos to everyone involved in making healthy changes at this school!

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Research Update – Healthy food and academic performance

An April 2010 article in the American Journal of Public Health examined the relationship between a school-based obesity prevention program and academic performance. The study evaluated the effects of the HOPS program on 1,197 students who qualified for free and reduced lunch. HOPS (Healthier Options for Public Schoolchildren) included a dietary component that provided students with healthier school food options. Physical activity was also a part of the intervention.

Results indicated that students participating in HOPS performed better on math tests than students in the control group. Although this difference cannot be attributed directly to the HOPS program, these results add to the growing bulk of evidence that connects healthy eating to physical and mental performance.


Source: Hollar, et al. (2010). Effect of a two year obesity prevention intervention on percentile changes in body mass index and academic performance in low-income elementary school children. The American Journal of Public Health, 100(4), 646-653.