Students cultivate nutritional knowledge as part of HCISD program

HARLINGEN — The children dug vigorously into the soil, eager to plan winter vegetables they’d consume themselves.

“I think it’s fun,” said Abigail Garza, 9, a fourth grader at Travis Elementary School

“We never get to do this at home,” Abigail said. “I am not good with plants.”

Abigail and her classmates were preparing the butterfly-shaped garden last week for a 10–week program in which they’ll learn about science, nutrition and physical fitness. The health-related disciplines are part of the Learn, Grow, Eat and GO program, a new research and evidenced based curriculum.

The fourth graders at Travis and all other elementary schools in Harlingen are participating in the program, in which classroom teacher and P.E. coaches are collaborating. It began Friday with the P.E. component.

“It’s a program that we’re doing with our fourth graders that is going to focus on nutrition,” said Jessica Hruska, special program and grants specialist for the Harlingen school district.

“Basically, the goal is to provide each student with the experience of growing their own food so each campus will have their own garden,” Hruska said. “In addition to that, they’ll be learning about nutritional value, making nutritional choices as well as supporting their academic standards at both science and writing.”

Abigail and the other Travis Elementary fourth graders were stirred up by the idea of eating their own vegetables. They’d plant broccoli, peppers, carrots …

“And cilantro,” Alayla Lopez, 9, said with a grin.

“It’s good, especially when you put it on pico de gallo,” she added, causing the others to laugh.

The program includes children keeping a journal about their experiences with gardening, classwork and physical fitness. They’ll write about learning to take their own heart rate and using new recipes.

“It will be fun to learn about new recipes we haven’t tried yet,” said Abigail.

On Friday the kids began the P.E. portion of the curriculum under the label “Go.”

“We’re doing a 15-minute running program where we’re running a sectioned off area of the school,” said Jacob Escamilla, P.E. coach at Travis.

“At the end of the run, we’ll talk about how proper hydration and proper nutrition can also help them in performing as an athlete,” he said. “As the weeks go on, we’ll continue working on things. In two weeks we have one where the kids learn how to take their own heart rate after an exercise.”

This particular lesson is an example of combining two disciplines. They learn where to find the carotid and brachial arteries. They also learn the math curriculum, calculating the heart rate after10 seconds.

“It’s one lesson each week,” Escamilla said. “They will get to put things together.”

Students will also learn how to read nutrition labels on foods in the grocery store, said Lori Romero, administrator for elementary education.

“That’s something that a lot of adults don’t do,” she said. “We’ll talk about counting portions. They’ll also learn about different types of seeds.”

The project is still just getting underway. The special journals arrived Friday, and there will be a district-wide meeting this week about the gardening. Travis Elementary is able to begin the gardening aspect because it already has a garden, said Principal Beulah Rangel.

“I think it’s great,” she said. “I think the garden offers opportunities for students and it allows them opportunities for disciplines such as science, math, visual arts, nutrition.”

The garden itself will allow them to taste new things.

“Something I haven’t tasted before is red peppers,” Abigail said.