School-gardens-kitchens-show-impact-in-New-Orleans

School gardens, kitchens show impact in New Orleans

Schools that offer gardening and cooking classes are seeing results, according to recent findings from the Tulane Prevention Research Center (PRC).

The Edible Schoolyard New Orleans (ESYNOLA), which has garden and kitchen-based programs at five FirstLine charter schools, selected the Tulane PRC to lead an evaluation of its activities during the 2013-2014 school year. Tulane PRC staff, with the help of three public health graduate students, conducted surveys with students and parents and led focus groups with students, parents and teachers.

The evaluation has helped Edible Schoolyard New Orleans think through future program planning and how best to measure and track the program's impact on children and families, said Claudia Barker, Executive Director of Edible Schoolyard New Orleans.

“Specifically, the evaluation gave us very useful comments from students, parents and teachers about how ESYNOLA garden and kitchen classes have increased access to fresh fruits and vegetables and contributed to students’ involvement in meal preparation at home," Barker said. "Students reported their delight in trying new foods – like kiwi and pomegranate – and teachers commented that this sense of adventure will help students make better choices in life."

The evaluation also showed that there is still much work to be done to instill healthier habits in students, 70% of whom reported eating at fast-food restaurants regularly. And similar to many children in the U.S., the students said they preferred fruits more than vegetables.

"Although this was a preliminary evaluation, our ultimate goal is to explore the effectiveness of ESYNOLA's teaching and gardening programs in reaching students and parents about healthier eating," said Carolyn Johnson, Director of the Tulane PRC. "We believe that evaluation work like this is important because it can empower schools and health-based programs to identify and address the needs of their students and families."

For the public health graduate students working on the evaluation, they gained behind-the-scenes insight into school-based evaluation work.

"Working on the ESYNOLA evaluation project opened my eyes to how much time and coordination it takes before beginning evaluation activities," said Kristine Creveling, a public health graduate and now dietetic intern at the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. "It is extremely important to have buy-in from people in your population – in the case of ESYNOLA, parents, teachers, and other school staff. Setting up good relationships with these stakeholders in advance can affect how smoothly your evaluation runs."

For information about Edible Schoolyard New Orleans, visit www.esynola.org.

(Photos courtesy of ESYNOLA: Click on the photo to see a slideshow of pictures from Watermelon Day and the Market-to-Table event.)

Topics:   diet , nutrition , agriculture , youth engagement , food environment , school food , childhood obesity , community health

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