Planting Knowledge

Bronx Fourth Graders Get Healthy Lessons During Garden Visit

Nine-year-old Angie tentatively pulled a large rake across soil the color of dark chocolate. A big smile broke through her apprehensive expression. Her classmates watched, excited by the bugs and worm they saw squirming in the turned soil.

BODY Club leaders Julie Nadel and Tony Bowen
BODY Club leaders Julie Nadel and Tony Bowen
"This is my first time using a rake," she admitted. As a fourth grader at P.S.89, located near Pelham Parkway in the Bronx, Angie doesn't get opportunities to garden. Volunteer medical and graduate students involved with Einstein's Bronx, Obesity, Diabetes and You (BODY) Club sought to change that. They organized a field trip to their Pierce Avenue Community Garden, which they established in 2011 behind neighboring Weiler Hospital. 

BODY's mission is to collaborate with the local community, and to provide useful resources and information about nutrition and exercise while encouraging residents to make healthier choices. Among club's goals is to reduce the incidence and prevalence of obesity and type 2 diabetes in the Bronx. (The 2011 Annual Report for Einstein's University Hospital, Montefiore Medical Center, noted that obesity and type 2 diabetes affect 18.4 percent and 12.1 percent of Bronx residents, respectively.)

Planting a seedling
Planting a seedling
To foster community partnership and generate greater interest in the garden, BODY Club student leaders Julie Nadel and Tony Bowen invited the elementary school students to three days of gardening, education and exercise May 22 through 24, 2013.

"Last year, the community didn't know the garden was here, so we thought about how we could raise awareness and interest, since we designed the garden with the community in mind," said Ms. Nadel, a third-year Ph.D. student.

"We've already been working with students at P.S. 89 through nutrition and after-school exercise programs run by BODY club members," noted Mr. Bowen, a third-year M.D.-Ph.D. student. 

The elementary school has a nutrition program to promote healthy habits among its students.  "By working with the school and the kids, we also reach their parents and raise awareness about the role of healthy eating in reducing chronic disease," said Ms. Nadel. "We'd like local families to feel some ownership of the garden, to use it and to take home some vegetables when they're ready to be harvested."

A Place Transformed

The creation of the garden was possible thanks to leadership at Einstein and Montefiore and several partnerships the students forged. The College of Medicine provided the land and assistance from its facilities department in preparing the land and laying out the garden's various sections. And an engineering team from Montefiore built the garden's tool shed and planters.

Diana Nguyen leads children in some exercises
Diana Nguyen leads children in some exercises
The BODY students also worked closely with GrowNYC, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting environmental programs, such as greenmarkets and gardens, which enhance a community's well-being.  The organization sells seedlings at a discount rate, making it affordable for the club to grow an abundant variety of vegetables, including peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, squash, garlic and zucchini.

Formerly an abandoned lot, the garden is now a cheerful, welcoming space transformed by a colorful mural hand-painted by Einstein students and community members, a bright red tool shed, and a variety of planters, including recycled rubber tires painted in pastel shades.

"We worked hard on the space," said Ms. Nadel, who used PowerPoint to outline a map of where and how the seedlings would be planted. "We hope it will become a place that the community wants to visit and where people feel inspired to get involved."

Hands-On Learning

Planters the students decorated and took home
Planters the students decorated and took home
Each of the three days, about 50 schoolchildren arrived along with their teachers. During their three-hour visit, they were divided into five groups that rotated through five stations set up by BODY volunteers.  Students planted vegetable seedlings; repurposed and decorated water bottles into planters; took part in a Tae Bo fitness class; learned about nutrition, counting calories and reading food labels; and pretended they were bees scavenging for flowers in an interactive lesson about pollination.

Labid Ereifej, one of teachers chaperoning the students, mentioned that the children had spent weeks studying the relationship between the environment and nutrition. "They couldn't wait to get here," she said. "We want to teach them how to be active participants and do something tangible in their community. Some of these kids live down the street from this garden. Coming here could help them get thinking about what they should be eating and, further along, they also may be to take home some vegetables."

Emily Guh, a third-year medical student who helped guide the buzzing fourth graders through the bee pollination activity noted, "Health is everyday living.  We hope that this field trip provides the children with some context about where food really comes from."

She added, "The event is as much a learning experience for me. As a medical student, it helps me better understand a patient's perspective, such as where they live and what obstacles there may be for them. There are some things you just can't learn in a doctor's office."

Editor's Note: Volunteers from within the Einstein community were especially helpful in making the visit for the P.S. 89 students possible. The BODY Garden extends thanks to the following faculty, staff and students for their contributions and assistance:  Maria Paz Ramos Polanco , Dr. Masako Suzuki, Emily Guh, Dr. Fabien Delayhe, Max Weidmann, Eric Jung, Alyssa Chamberlain, Steven Kennedy, Jenn Ahn, Will Walsh, Kate Matthews, Dorothy Shi, Michael Dunleavy, Andy Liu, Diana Nguyen, Gunj Patel, Karen Hsu, Sabriya Stukes, Arthee Jahangir, Penelope Ruiz, Daniel Biro, Michael Grant, Amanda Tow, Mike Beckert, Ian Downs, Pratistha Koirala, Kevin Shieh, Odelya Hartung and Kelly Mitchell.

Photo Gallery

(To view slideshow of photo gallery, click on an image below; then move your mouse over the left or right margins to navigate.)

Entry to the garden Maria Paz Ramos demonstrating an exercise A bit of green Decorating planters Lending some hands to the planting of “crops” Having a good “thyme” Mike Dunleavy guides students in planting seedlings

 Kate Matthews and students with plants Will Walsh talks to some students Getting a kick out of exercising Learning about nutrition Bend and stretch Happy fourth graders Mike Dunleavy and Andy Liu, Einstein student volunteers

Arthee Jahangir has a teaching moment with the students Learning about nutrition Learning about pollination  Andy Liu with a student Will Walsh tells students about the seedlings they’ll plant Kate Matthews and Karen Hsu assist students with an activity The team of Einstein volunteers

Posted on: Friday, July 26, 2013